4-Hydroxynonenal (HNE), a diffusible aldehyde product of membrane lipid peroxidation, can be produced by oxidative stress and has been detected in several diseases such as diabetes. In this study, we investigated the effects of HNE exposure on cytotoxicity, intracellular redox status, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and apoptosis in insulinoma cell line (INS-1). Short-term (1 h) incubation of INS-1 cells with 0-50 mu M HNE decreased cell viability and caused depletion in reduced glutathione (GSH) levels and increased intracellular HNE-histidine adducts in a concentration-dependent manner. HNE activated the ER stress, leading to an increase in inositol-requiring enzyme-1a IRE1-alpha, phosphorylation of protein kinase-like ER kinase, phosphorylation of c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and increased the expression of CCAAT/enhancer binding protein (CHOP). Western blot analysis showed that HNE exposure induced dose-dependent activation of caspase 9 and caspase 3. These data indicate a potential role for HNE promoting deleterious effects toward pancreatic beta cell redox status and beta cell mass which may be important for the pathogenesis in diabetes.