Oxidized lipoproteins may play an important role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Elevated levels of 3-chlorotyrosine, a specific end product of the reaction between hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and tyrosine residues of proteins, have been detected in atherosclerotic tissue. Thus, HOCl generated by the phagocyte enzyme myeloperoxidase represents one pathway for protein oxidation in humans. One important target of the myeloperoxidase pathway may be high density lipoprotein (HDL), which mobilizes cholesterol from artery wall cells. To determine whether activated phagocytes preferentially chlorinate specific sites in HDL, we used tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) to analyze apolipoprotein A-I that had been oxidized by HOCl. The major site of chlorination was a single tyrosine residue located in one of the protein's YXXK motifs (where X represents a nonreactive amino acid). To investigate the mechanism of chlorination, we exposed synthetic peptides to HOCl. The peptides encompassed the amino acid sequences YKXXY, YXXKY, or YXXXY. MS/MS analysis demonstrated that chlorination of tyrosine in the peptides that contained lysine was regioselective and occurred in high yield if the substrate was KXXY or YXXK. NMR and MS analyses revealed that the N(epsilon) amino group of lysine was initially chlorinated, which suggests that chloramine formation is the first step in tyrosine chlorination. Molecular modeling of the YXXK motif in apolipoprotein A-I demonstrated that these tyrosine and lysine residues are adjacent on the same face of an amphipathic alpha-helix. Our observations suggest that HOCl selectively targets tyrosine residues that are suitably juxtaposed to primary amino groups in proteins. This mechanism might enable phagocytes to efficiently damage proteins when they destroy microbial proteins during infection or damage host tissue during inflammation.