Aluminium adjuvants in vaccinations: How do they really work?

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Posted on 10 March 2010

An imminent publication in Trends in Immunology (March issue; by a leading researcher in the bioinorganic chemistry of aluminium, Dr Christopher Exley, Reader in Bioinorganic Chemistry at The Birchall Centre, Keele University in Staffordshire, has now gone some way to giving the fullest possible explanation of how aluminium adjuvants work in boosting the immune response to vaccination.

Adjuvants are used in vaccinations to improve the efficacy of the vaccine. They enhance the immune response to the vaccine. For almost 80 years the most common form of clinically approved adjuvant has been aluminium salts. They are used in the majority of vaccines today including vaccines against cervical cancer (HPV), hepatitis, polio, tetanus, diphtheria and seasonal flu amongst many others. In spite of the widespread use of aluminium-based adjuvants there is very little understanding of how they actually work. A recent flurry of research papers purported to explain their mode of action ( though it quickly became clear that the story was still significantly confused (

The Opinion article in the prestigious review journal has explained the likely mode of action of aluminium adjuvants in the context of both the bioinorganic chemistry and immunobiology of aluminium. It has helped to explain why previous suggestions as how aluminium adjuvants work are probably not applicable to the clinically approved aluminium adjuvants used in human vaccination programmes. In doing so the article highlights the potential for aluminium and aluminium salts to stimulate the immune system and makes some reference to the possible role of aluminium adjuvants in vaccine-related diseases. The latter, though their aetiologies are largely unexplained, seem often to be linked to aluminium adjuvants.

The immunobiology of aluminium adjuvants: how do they really work?
Christopher Exley (Keele), Peter Siesjö (Lund, Sweden), and Håkan Eriksson (Malmö, Sweden)
Trends in Immunology 10.1016/ (March 2010)