Vaccine. 2009 Jul 16;27(33):4388-401. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2009.05.032. Epub 2009 May 28.


Immunostimulatory complexes (ISCOMs) are particulate antigen delivery systems composed of antigen, cholesterol, phospholipid and saponin, while ISCOMATRIX is a particulate adjuvant comprising cholesterol, phospholipid and saponin but without antigen. The combination of an antigen with ISCOMATRIX is called an ISCOMATRIX vaccine. ISCOMs and ISCOMATRIX combine the advantages of a particulate carrier system with the presence of an in-built adjuvant (Quil A) and consequently have been found to be more immunogenic, while removing its haemolytic activity of the saponin, producing less toxicity. ISCOMs and ISCOMATRIX vaccines have now been shown to induce strong antigen-specific cellular or humoral immune responses to a broad range of antigens of viral, bacterial, parasite origin or tumor in a number of animal species including non-human primates and humans. These vaccines produced by well controlled and reproducible processes have also been evaluated in human clinical trials. In this review, we summarize the recent progress of ISCOMs and ISCOMATRIX, including preparation technology as well as their application in humans and veterinary vaccine designs with particular emphasis on the current understanding of the properties and features of ISCOMs and ISCOMATRIX vaccines to induce immune responses. The mechanisms of adjuvanticity are also discussed in the light of recent findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Antigen Presentation
  • Apoptosis
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical / methods
  • Cholesterol / immunology*
  • Cholesterol / pharmacology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Drug Combinations
  • Humans
  • ISCOMs / immunology*
  • ISCOMs / pharmacology
  • Phospholipids / immunology*
  • Phospholipids / pharmacology
  • Quillaja / chemistry
  • Saponins / immunology*
  • Saponins / pharmacology
  • Viral Vaccines / immunology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Cytokines
  • Drug Combinations
  • ISCOMs
  • Phospholipids
  • Saponins
  • Viral Vaccines
  • Cholesterol