Two peptides, corresponding to amino acids 1-17 and 169-186 of the amino acid sequence of pertussis toxin (PT) subunit S1, were synthesized and coupled to the diphtheria toxin cross-reactive mutant protein CRM 197 and evaluated for immunogenicity and protective capacity against PT challenge in vivo. The peptide-CRM conjugates induced high antibody titers against native toxin in mice (BALB/c, C57/Black, and outbred NMRI) as measured by ELISA. Upon PT challenge (0.5 microgram of toxin) of the NMRI mice, the CRM conjugates of peptides 1-17 and 169-186 fully protected the mice from PT-induced leukocytosis. Immunization with the corresponding bovine serum albumin conjugates of these two peptides also fully protected mice. Rabbit antiserum to the peptide 1-17-CRM conjugate was highly efficient in inhibiting the ADP-ribosylating activity of PT but did not neutralize the clustering effect of PT on Chinese hamster ovary cells. In contrast, the rabbit antiserum raised against the peptide 169-186-CRM conjugate neutralized the clustering effect of PT on Chinese hamster ovary cells but did not inhibit the enzymatic activity of PT. Peptide 169-186-CRM conjugates mimic the immunoglobulin binding properties of PT and also cause clustering of Chinese hamster ovary cells. The CRM conjugates of these two peptides constitute a synthetic pertussis vaccine candidate with the ability to provide a chemically well-defined, safe, and efficient pertussis vaccine.