The oxidation of spermidine or homospermidine with bovine serum amine oxidase (BSAO) was monitored in situ, using proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in water with 10% D2O. NMR assignments were performed by spin decoupling and COSY spectra or by comparison with data from synthetic aminoaldehydes. The results represent the first in situ characterisation of the highly reactive aminoaldehydes and showed oxidation at the N1 amino group of spermidine and homospermidine. Comparison of homospermidine with a variety of substrates revealed that among straight chain di- and polyamines both an aminopropylgroup and two primary amino groups separated by seven (norspermidine) or eight (spermidine) carbon atoms were required for optimal substrate ability. However, highest activity was seen with the substrate N-(4-aminobutyl)hexahydropyrimidine, showing that the substrate channel of BSAO has a dual substrate preference, with moderately bulky substituents at the distal end of a diamine contributing equally well as an alkyl amino group. Cytotoxic investigations of a variety of substrates for BSAO, confirmed previous results, that cytotoxicity is primarily linked to polyamines encompassing the aminopropyl moiety. No acrolein was observed at any time during the oxidation showing that it reacts very fast with available amino groups forming a variety of derivatives. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.