Elastin is an abundant extracellular matrix protein in elastic tissues, including the lungs, skin and arteries, and comprises 30–57% of the aorta by dry mass. The monomeric precursor, tropoelastin (TE), undergoes complex processing during elastogenesis to form mature elastic fibres. Peroxynitrous acid (ONOOH), a potent oxidising and nitrating agent, is formed in vivo from superoxide and nitric oxide radicals. Considerable evidence supports ONOOH formation in the inflamed artery wall, and a role for this species in the development of human atherosclerotic lesions, with ONOOH-damaged extracellular matrix implicated in lesion rupture. We demonstrate that TE is highly sensitive to ONOOH, with this resulting in extensive dimerization, fragmentation and nitration of Tyr residues to give 3-nitrotyrosine (3-nitroTyr). This occurs with equimolar or greater levels of oxidant and increases in a dose-dependent manner. Quantification of Tyr loss and 3-nitroTyr formation indicates extensive Tyr modification with up to two modified Tyr per protein molecule, and up to 8% conversion of initial ONOOH to 3-nitroTyr. These effects were modulated by bicarbonate, an alternative target for ONOOH. Inter- and intra-protein di-tyrosine cross-links have been characterized by mass spectrometry. Examination of human atherosclerotic lesions shows colocalization of 3-nitroTyr with elastin epitopes, consistent with TE or elastin modification in vivo, and also an association of 3-nitroTyr containing proteins and elastin with lipid deposits. These data suggest that exposure of TE to ONOOH gives marked chemical and structural changes to TE and altered matrix assembly, and that such damage accumulates in human arterial tissue during the development of atherosclerosis.