Microspheres composed of biocompatible, biodegradable poly(DL-lactide-co-glycolide) (DL-PLG) and staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) toxoid were evaluated as a vaccine delivery system when subcutaneously injected into mice. As measured by circulating immunoglobulin G (IgG) antitoxin titers, the delivery of SEB toxoid via DL-PLG microspheres, 1 to 10 microns in diameter, induced an immune response which was approximately 500 times that seen with nonencapsulated toxoid. The kinetics, magnitude, and duration of the antitoxin response induced with microencapsulated toxoid were similar to those obtained when an equal toxoid dose was administered as an emulsion with complete Freund adjuvant. However, the microspheres did not induce the inflammation and granulomata formation seen with complete Freund adjuvant. The adjuvant activity of the microspheres was not dependent on the superantigenicity of SEB toxin and was equally effective at potentiating circulating IgG antitrinitrophenyl levels in response to microencapsulated trinitrophenyl-keyhole limpet hemocyanin. Empty DL-PLG microspheres were not mitogenic, and SEB toxoid injected as a mixture with empty DL-PLG microspheres was no more effective as an immunogen than toxoid alone. Antigen-containing microspheres 1 to 10 microns in diameter exhibited stronger adjuvant activity than those greater than 10 microns, which correlated with the delivery of the 1- to 10-microns, but not the greater than 10-microns, microspheres into the draining lymph nodes within macrophages. The antibody response induced through immunization with microencapsulated SEB toxoid was protective against the weight loss and splenic V beta 8+ T-cell expansion induced by intravenous toxin administration. These results show that DL-PLG microsphere vaccine delivery systems, which are composed of pharmaceutically acceptable components, possess a strong adjuvant activity for their encapsulated antigens.