Neonates have poor immune responses to type 2 T-cell independent antigens (TI-2), such as polysaccharides and immunization of human infants with these antigens does not induce protective levels of serum antibodies. Conjugating proteins to TI-2 antigens converts the immune response to one which is T-cell dependent. We used an organic cyanylating reagent, 1-cyano-4-dimethylaminopyridinium tetrafluroborate (CDAP), to activate polysaccharides, in water, and subsequently react them with hexanediamine, in preparation for coupling proteins to the polysaccharide. CDAP activation of polysaccharide is rapid (< 2 min) and efficient. CDAP can be used to activate polysaccharides of diverse chemical natures, including dextrans and pneumococcal types 6, 14, 19 and 23. The critical parameters in CDAP activation of polysaccharides were the reagent concentrations and the pH. Activation can be performed over a broad alkaline pH range, with an optimum of pH 9-10. Furthermore, proteins can be coupled to CDAP-activated polysaccharides without the use of a spacer. Direct conjugation of protein to CDAP-activated polysaccharides can be performed under mildly alkaline conditions (pH 7-9). These conditions allow CDAP to be used with alkaline-sensitive polysaccharides and proteins. Mice immunized with BSA-pneumococcal type 14 polysaccharides (Pn14) conjugates, prepared either by direct conjugation or via a spacer, had high anti-Pn14 and anti-BSA serum antibody IgG1 titers, whereas no IgG1 antibody was induced to the unconjugated components. The ease of use and mild activating conditions should prove of value in using CDAP to prepare conjugate vaccines, as well as other immunologically useful reagents.