Recent developments in adjuvants for vaccines against infectious diseases

Biomol Eng. 2001 Oct 15;18(3):69-85. doi: 10.1016/s1389-0344(01)00101-0.


New generation vaccines, particularly those based on recombinant proteins and DNA, are likely to be less reactogenic than traditional vaccines, but are also less immunogenic. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the development of new and improved vaccine adjuvants. Adjuvants can be broadly separated into two classes, based on their principal mechanisms of action; vaccine delivery systems and 'immunostimulatory adjuvants'. Vaccine delivery systems are generally particulate e.g. emulsions, microparticles, iscoms and liposomes, and mainly function to target associated antigens into antigen presenting cells (APC). In contrast, immunostimulatory adjuvants are predominantly derived from pathogens and often represent pathogen associated molecular patterns (PAMP) e.g. LPS, MPL, CpG DNA, which activate cells of the innate immune system. Once activated, cells of innate immunity drive and focus the acquired immune response. In some studies, delivery systems and immunostimulatory agents have been combined to prepare adjuvant delivery systems, which are designed for more effective delivery of the immunostimulatory adjuvant into APC. Recent progress in innate immunity is beginning to yield insight into the initiation of immune responses and the ways in which immunostimulatory adjuvants may enhance this process. However, a rational approach to the development of new and more effective vaccine adjuvants will require much further work to better define the mechanisms of action of existing adjuvants. The discovery of more potent adjuvants may allow the development of vaccines against infectious agents such as HIV which do not naturally elicit protective immunity. New adjuvants may also allow vaccines to be delivered mucosally.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / administration & dosage*
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Antigen Presentation / immunology
  • Bacterial Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • Cytokines / administration & dosage*
  • Cytokines / drug effects
  • Cytokines / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • ISCOMs / therapeutic use*
  • Immunity, Cellular / immunology
  • Immunity, Mucosal / immunology
  • Vaccines, Combined / immunology
  • Vaccines, DNA / administration & dosage
  • Viral Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • Viral Vaccines / therapeutic use


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Bacterial Vaccines
  • Cytokines
  • ISCOMs
  • Vaccines, Combined
  • Vaccines, DNA
  • Viral Vaccines