Aluminium oxyhydroxide (alum), a nanocrystalline compound forming agglomerates, has been used in vaccines for its immunological adjuvant effect since 1927. Alum is the most commonly used adjuvant in human and veterinary vaccines, but the mechanisms by which it stimulates immune responses remain incompletely understood. Although generally well tolerated, alum may occasionally cause disabling health problems in presumably susceptible individuals. A small proportion of vaccinated people present with delayed onset of diffuse myalgia, chronic fatigue and cognitive dysfunction, and exhibit very long-term persistence of alum-loaded macrophages at the site of previous intramuscular (i.m.) immunization, forming a granulomatous lesion called macrophagic myofasciitis (MMF). Clinical symptoms associated with MMF are paradigmatic of the recently delineated 'autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants' (ASIA). The stereotyped cognitive dysfunction is reminiscent of cognitive deficits described in foundry workers exposed to inhaled Al particles. Alum safety concerns will largely depend on whether the compound remains localized at the site of injection or diffuses and accumulates in distant organs. Animal experiments indicate that biopersistent nanomaterials taken up by monocyte-lineage cells in tissues, such as fluorescent alum surrogates, can first translocate to draining lymph nodes, and thereafter circulate in blood within phagocytes and reach the spleen, and, eventually, slowly accumulate in the brain.