Separation and characterization of saponins with adjuvant activity from Quillaja saponaria Molina cortex

J Immunol. 1991 Jan 15;146(2):431-7.


Saponins were purified from Quillaja saponaria Molina bark by silica and reverse phase chromatography. The resulting purified saponins were tested for adjuvant activity in mice. Several distinct saponins, designated QS-7, QS-17, QS-18, and QS-21, were demonstrated to boost antibody levels by 100-fold or more when used in mouse immunizations with the Ag BSA and beef liver cytochrome b5. These purified saponins increased titers in all major IgG subclasses. To determine optimal dose in mice for adjuvant response, QS-7 and QS-21 were tested in a dose-response study in intradermal immunization with BSA in mice; for both of these purified saponins, adjuvant response (determined by stimulation of ELISA titers to BSA) neared maximum at doses of 5 micrograms and was shown to plateau up to the highest dose tested, 80 micrograms. These purified saponins vary considerably in their toxicity, as assessed by lethality in mice; the main component, QS-18, being the most toxic. Saponins QS-7 and QS-21 showed no or very low toxicity in mice, respectively. None of these saponins stimulated production of reaginic antibodies. The monosaccharide composition of these saponins showed similar but distinct compositions with all four containing fucose, xylose, galactose and glucuronic acid. Predominant differences were observed in the quantities of rhamnose, arabinose, and glucose. Monomer m.w. (determined by size exclusion HPLC) were determined to range from 1800 to 2200.

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / isolation & purification*
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Carbohydrates / analysis
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Hemolysis
  • Mice
  • Plants / analysis*
  • Saponins / chemistry
  • Saponins / isolation & purification*
  • Saponins / pharmacology*
  • Saponins / toxicity


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Carbohydrates
  • Saponins