Foreign DNA has been shown to impinge on immune cell function by an as yet unidentified mechanism. We and others have demonstrated that single-stranded (ss) DNA containing the motif CpG flanked by two 5' purines and two 3' pyrimidines are mitogenic for B cells and activate macrophages to release tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interferon-gamma, interleukin (IL)-6 or IL-12. Because of these pro-inflammatory responses we investigated if ssDNA would serve as a potential vaccine adjuvant. Here we show that CpG-containing oligonucleotides represent a powerful adjuvant for both humoral and cellular immune responses. When ssDNA was incorporated into inocula, specific antibody titers of the IgG2 isotype were enhanced by greater than 100-fold. Primary cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses generated to either unprocessed protein antigen or major histocompatibility complex class I-restricted peptide were exceedingly strong. Evidence is also provided that oligomers directly influenced T cell receptor-triggered T cell proliferation. Thus ssDNA oligomers may serve as inexpensive and safe vaccine adjuvants and, in addition, differential effects due to sequence may allow for directed responses.