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Eur J Immunol. 2008 Aug;38(8):2068-71. doi: 10.1002/eji.200838648.

Alum adjuvanticity: unraveling a century old mystery.

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Department of Immunology, Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics, Siena, Italy.


The development of vaccine adjuvants for human use has been one of the slowest processes in the history of medicine. For almost one century, aluminium hydroxide (alum) has been the only vaccine adjuvant approved worldwide. Only in the past decade have two oil-in-water emulsions and one TLR agonist been approved by the European authorities as new vaccine adjuvants. Despite the fact that alum has been injected into billions of people, its mechanism of action is not fully understood. Recently, several reports have greatly increased our knowledge of the molecular and cellular events triggered by alum; however, the contribution of each of these processes to alum adjuvanticity is still unclear. A study published in this issue of the European Journal of Immunology, together with two recent publications, have demonstrated that the NOD-like receptor, pyrin domain containing 3 (Nlrp3)-inflammasome is the molecular target of alum immunostimulatory activity in vitro. Surprisingly, these three studies reported conflicting results on the requirement of the Nlrp3 inflammasome complex for alum adjuvant effects in vivo. This commentary attempts to resolve some of these discrepancies.

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