Aluminium oxyhydroxide (alum), a nanocrystalline compound that forms agglomerates, has been widely used as a vaccine adjuvant since 1927, but the mechanisms by which it stimulates immune responses remain poorly understood. Although generally well tolerated, alum may occasionally cause chronic health problems in presumably susceptible individuals. Some individuals may rarely develop delayed-onset diffuse myalgia, chronic exhaustion and cognitive dysfunction, associated with long-term persistence (up to 12 years) of alum-loaded macrophages at site of i.m. immunization, defining so-called macrophagic myofasciitis (MMF). Symptoms are consistent with the chronic fatigue/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) syndrome, and have been used as a paradigm of the "autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants" (ASIA). Cognitive dysfunction is reminiscent of that described in workers exposed to inhaled Al particles. Individual susceptibility may influence both alum biopersistence and difusion away from injection sites. Biopersistent particles such as fluorescent alum-coated nanohybrids, when injected into mouse muscle, are captured by monocyte-lineage cells and then carried to distant organs, draining lymph nodes and blood, probably via the thoracic duct, with delayed and accumulative translocation to the brain (microglial cells). Brain penetration occurs at extremely low levels in normal conditions, possibly explaining the good tolerance of alum despite its high neurotoxic potential. However, systemic diffusion is considerably enhanced by the potentiating effect of MCP-1, the main monocyte chemoattractant factor, the production of which is subject to marked variations linked to age and to genetic and environmental factors. Selective MCP-1 elevation is the only known circulating biomarker of MMF.