Glycation of proteins leads to the formation of early glycation adducts (fructosamine derivatives) and advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). Formation of AGEs has been linked to the development of cataract, diabetic complications, uraemia, Alzheimer's disease and other disorders. AGEs are a group of compounds of diverse molecular structure and biological function. To characterize AGE-modified proteins used in studies of structural and functional effects of glycation, an assay was developed that surveys the content of early and advanced glycation adducts in proteins. The assay procedure involved enzymic hydrolysis of protein substrate, derivatization of the hydrolysate with 6-aminoquinolyl-N-hydroxysuccinimidyl carbamate (AQC) and HPLC of the resulting adducts with fluorimetric detection. Structural isomers of methylglyoxal-derived hydroimidazolone, glyoxal-derived hydroimidazolone, 3-deoxyglucosone-derived hydroimidazolone and N(delta)-(4-carboxy-4,6-dimethyl-5,6-dihydroxy-1,4,5,6-tetrahydropyrimidin-2-yl)-ornithine (THP) were determined for the first time. AGEs with intrinsic fluorescence (argpyrimidine, pentosidine) were assayed without derivatization. Limits of detection were 2-17 pmol and levels of recovery were 50-99%, depending on the analyte. The AQC assay resolved structural and epimeric isomers of methylglyoxal-derived hydroimidazolones and THP. Hydroimidazolones, THP and argpyrimidine were AGEs of short-to-intermediate stability under physiological conditions, with half-lives of 1-2 weeks. Their measurement provides further insight into the glycation process. The assay was applied to the characterization of human serum albumin minimally and highly modified by N(epsilon)-carboxymethyl-lysine and N(epsilon)-(1-carboxyethyl)-lysine.