Pertussis toxin (PTX) is a major virulence factor in whooping cough and can elicit protective antibodies. Amino acid residues 8 to 15 of PTX subunit S1 are important for the adenosine diphosphate-ribosyltransferase activity associated with the pathobiological effects of PTX. Furthermore, this region contains at least a portion of an epitope that elicits both toxin-neutralizing and protective antibody responses in mice. The gene encoding the S1 subunit was subjected to site-specific mutagenesis in this critical region. A mutant containing a single amino acid substitution (Arg9----Lys) had reduced enzymatic activity (approximately 0.02% of control) while retaining the protective epitope. This analog S1 molecule may provide the basis for a genetically detoxified PTX with potential for use as a component of an acellular vaccine against whooping cough.