The association of complement component C3d with B or T cell complement receptor 2 (CR2 or CD21) is a link between innate and adaptive immunity. It has been recognized in experimental studies that the C3d-CR2 association is pH- and ionic strength-dependent. This led us to perform electrostatic calculations to obtain a theoretical understanding of the mechanism of C3d-CR2 association. We used the crystallographic structures of human free C3d, free CR2 (short consensus repeat (SCR)1-2), and the C3d-CR2(SCR1-2) complex, and continuum solvent representation, to obtain a detailed atomic-level picture of the components of the two molecules that contribute to association. Based on the calculation of electrostatic potentials for the free and bound species and apparent pK(a) values for each ionizable residue, we show that C3d-CR2(SCR1-2) recognition is electrostatic in nature and involves not only the association interface, but also the whole molecules. Our results are in qualitative agreement with experimental data that measured the ionic strength and pH dependence of C3d-CR2 association. Also, our results for the native molecules and a number of theoretical mutants of C3d explain experimental mutagenesis studies of amino acid replacements away from the association interface that modulate binding of iC3b with full-length CR2. Finally, we discuss the packing of the two SCR domains. Overall, our data provide global and site-specific explanations of the physical causes that underlie the ionic strength dependence of C3d-CR2 association in a unified model that accounts for all experimental data, some of which were previously thought to be contradictory.