Adjuvants for human vaccines--current status, problems and future prospects

Vaccine. 1995 Oct;13(14):1263-76. doi: 10.1016/0264-410x(95)00011-o.


Adjuvants help antigen to elicit an early, high and long-lasting immune response with less antigen, thus saving on vaccine production costs. In recent years, adjuvants received much attention because of the development of purified, subunit and synthetic vaccines which are poor immunogens and require adjuvants to evoke the immune response. With the use of adjuvants immune response can be selectively modulated to major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I or MHC class II and Th1 or Th2 type, which is very important for protection against diseases caused by intracellular pathogens such as viruses, parasites and bacteria (Mycobacterium). A number of problems are encountered in the development and use of adjuvants for human vaccines. The biggest issue with the use of adjuvants for human vaccines, particularly routine childhood vaccines, is the toxicity and adverse side-effects of most of the adjuvant formulations. At present the choice of adjuvants for human vaccination reflects a compromise between a requirement for adjuvanticity and an acceptable low level of side-effects. Other problems with the development of adjuvants include restricted adjuvanticity of certain formulations to a few antigens, use of aluminum adjuvants as reference adjuvant preparations under suboptimal conditions, non-availability of reliable animal models, use of non-standard assays and biological differences between animal models and humans leading to the failure of promising formulations to show adjuvanticity in clinical trials. The most common adjuvants for human use today are still aluminum hydroxide and aluminum phosphate, although calcium phosphate and oil emulsions also have some use in human vaccinations. During the last 15 years much progress has been made on development, isolation and chemical synthesis of alternative adjuvants such as derivatives of muramyl dipeptide, monophosphoryl lipid A, liposomes, QS21, MF-59 and immunostimulating complexes (ISCOMS). Other areas in adjuvant research which have received much attention are the controlled release of vaccine antigens using biodegradable polymer microspheres and reciprocal enhanced immunogenicity of protein-polysaccharide conjugates. Biodegradable polymer microspheres are being evaluated for targeting antigens on mucosal surfaces and for controlled release of vaccines with an aim to reduce the number of doses required for primary immunization. Reciprocal enhanced immunogenicity of protein-polysaccharide conjugates will be useful for the development of combination vaccines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / adverse effects
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Vaccines / pharmacology*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Vaccines