The mechanism of action of MF59 - an innately attractive adjuvant formulation

Vaccine. 2012 Jun 19;30(29):4341-8. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2011.09.061.


MF59 is a safe and effective vaccine adjuvant which was originally approved to be included in a licensed influenza vaccine to be used in the elderly in Europe in 1997. The MF59 adjuvanted influenza vaccine (Fluad™) is now licensed in more than 20 countries worldwide and more than 85 million doses have been administered. More recently the vaccine adjuvant has also been shown to be safe and effective in young children and resulted in a significant increase in influenza vaccine efficacy in a controlled clinical trial in Europe. Since the early days of its discovery we have explored the mechanism of action of MF59, using a variety of available techniques. In recent years we have explored more thoroughly the mechanism of action using new and more sophisticated techniques. It is remarkable how consistent the data has been, using a variety of different approaches both in several small animal models and also using human immune cells in vitro. Here we present a summary of all the work performed to date on the mechanism of action of MF59 and we present a unified theory based on the accumulated data of how it exerts its adjuvant effects. A key element of the mechanism of action appears to be the creation of a transient 'immunocompetent' local environment at the injection site, resulting in the recruitment of key immune cells, which are able to take up antigen and adjuvant and transport them to the local lymph nodes, where the immune response is induced. This recruitment appears to be triggered by the induction of a chemokine driven gradient by the impact of MF59 on local cells, which are activated to secrete further chemokines, which are recruitment factors for more immune cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / administration & dosage
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / chemistry*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Influenza Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • Polysorbates / administration & dosage
  • Squalene / administration & dosage
  • Squalene / immunology*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Influenza Vaccines
  • MF59 oil emulsion
  • Polysorbates
  • Squalene