4-hydroxynonenal (HNE), a major lipid peroxidation product of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which was discovered by the late Hermann Esterbauer, is a remarkable trifunctional molecule. Both the hydroxy group and the conjugated system consisting of a C=C double bond and a carbonyl group contribute to the high reactivity of HNE. Most of the biochemical effects of HNE can be explained by its rapid reactions with thiol and amino groups. Among the primary reactants for HNE are the amino acids cysteine, histidine and lysine, which--either free or protein-bound--undergo readily Michael additions to the C=C bond. After this primary reaction, which confers rotational freedom to the C2-C3 bond, secondary reactions may occur involving the carbonyl and the hydroxy group. Primary amines may alternatively react with the carbonyl group to form Schiff bases. Reactions which do not fit into this scheme are the oxidation and the reduction respective of the carbonyl group and the epoxidation of the C=C double bond. Examples will be presented for the interaction of HNE with various classes of biomolecules such as proteins and peptides, lipids and nucleic acids and the biochemical consequences will be discussed.