Aldose reductase (AR), a member of the aldo-keto reductase superfamily, has been implicated in the etiology of secondary diabetic complications. However, the physiological functions of AR under euglycemic conditions remain unclear. We have recently demonstrated that, in intact heart, AR catalyzes the reduction of the glutathione conjugate of the lipid peroxidation product 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal (Srivastava, S., Chandra, A., Wang, L., Seifert, W. E., Jr., DaGue, B. B., Ansari, N. H., Srivastava, S. K., and Bhatnagar, A. (1998) J. Biol. Chem. 273, 10893-10900), consistent with a possible role of AR in the metabolism of glutathione conjugates of aldehydes. Herein, we present several lines of evidence suggesting that the active site of AR forms a specific glutathione-binding domain. The catalytic efficiency of AR in the reduction of the glutathione conjugates of acrolein, trans-2-hexenal, trans-2-nonenal, and trans,trans-2,4-decadienal was 4-1000-fold higher than for the corresponding free alkanal. Alterations in the structure of glutathione diminished the catalytic efficiency in the reduction of the acrolein adduct, consistent with the presence of specific interactions between the amino acid residues of glutathione and the AR active site. In addition, non-aldehydic conjugates of glutathione or glutathione analogs displayed active-site inhibition. Molecular dynamics calculations suggest that the conjugate adopts a specific low energy configuration at the active site, indicating selective binding. These observations support an important role of AR in the metabolism of glutathione conjugates of endogenous and xenobiotic aldehydes and demonstrate, for the first time, efficient binding of glutathione conjugates to an aldo-keto reductase.