Primary amines react with 2,4-pentanedione at pH 6-9 to form enamines, N-alkyl-4-amino-3-penten-2-ones. The latter compounds readily regenerate the primary amine at low pH or on treatment with hydroxylamine. Guanidine and substituted guanidines react with 2,4-pentanedione to form N-substituted 2-amino-4,6-dimethylpyrimidines at a rate which is lower by at least a factor of 20 than the rate of reaction of 2,4-pentanedione with primary amines. Selective modification of lysine and arginine side chains in proteins can readily be achieved with 2,4-pentanedione. Modification of lysine is favored by reaction at pH 7 or for short reaction times at pH 9. Selective modification of arginine is achieved by reaction with 2,4-pentanedione for long times at pH 9, followed by treatment of the protein with hydroxylamine. The extent of modification of lysine and arginine side chains can readily be measured spectrophotometrically. Modification of lysozyme with 2,4-pentanedione at pH 7 results in modification of 3.8 lysine residues and less than 0.4 arginine residue in 24 hr. Modification of lysozyme with 2,4-pentanedione at pH 9 results in modification of 4 lysine residues and 4.5 arginine residues in 100 hr. Treatment of this modified protein with hydroxylamine regenerated the modified lysine residues but caused no change in the modified arginine residues. One arginine residue seems to be essential for the catalytic activity of the enzyme.