Covalently linking protein to polysaccharides converts the anti-polysaccharide immune response from a T-cell independent response to one which is T-cell dependent. The organic cyanylating reagent 1-cyano-4-dimethylaminopyridinium tetrafluoroborate (CDAP) (Vaccine 14190, 1996) has been used to activate polysaccharides, which can then be reacted with spacer reagents or directly with protein. We wished to explore ways in which proteins could be linked to CDAP-activated polysaccharides to conjugate in a more controlled and selective fashion. To this end, we examined the reaction of nucleophilic amino acids with CDAP-activated polysaccharides under basic and acidic conditions. We found that lysine, cysteine and histidine but not methionine, serine or tyrosine conjugated to CDAP-activated dextran. We also examined the reaction of various spacer reagents with CDAP-activated dextran as a function of pH. The addition of hexanediamine was highly pH dependent and maximal at pH 9.3. In contrast, the addition of adipic dihydrazide, which has a pKa of ca 2.5 was essentially independent of pH. By performing the conjugation reaction at pH 5, we were able to selectively couple hydrazides even in the presence of high concentrations of amines. Proteins derivatized with limited numbers of hydrazides could be conjugated to CDAP-activated polysaccharides at pH5, where the native protein was not reactive. Proteins could be derivatized with hydrazides on carboxyls using adipic dihydrazide and a water soluble carbodiimide or on amines using a mild two-step reaction. Tetanus toxoid-pneumococcal type 14 conjugates produced by coupling hydrazide-derivatized tetanus toxoid under acidic conditions induced anti-polysaccharide antibodies at titers comparable to that stimulated by conjugates produced using a basic coupling pH. Our data suggest that crosslinking was occurring only with the limited number of hydrazides on the protein and that we achieved limited and selective crosslinking between the protein and CDAP-activated polysaccharide. This work also demonstrates that CDAP-mediated conjugation to polysaccharides can be applied even to very pH sensitive proteins and polysaccharides.