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May 22, 2008

Investigators Uncover Mechanism of Action for Vaccine Adjuvant

  • Yale University researchers discovered how a common ingredient in many vaccines stimulates and interacts with the immune system to help provide protection against infectious diseases.

    Vaccines must possess not only the bacterial or viral components that serve as targets of protective immune responses but also ingredients to kick start those immune responses. Although aluminum hydroxide/phosphate formulations, known as alum, has been used as an adjuvant in vaccines for decades, no one understood how it worked, according to the investigators.

    The Yale team used genetically engineered mice that were deficient in various components of a specific type of inflammsome characterized by the presence of the protein Nalp3. Inflammasomes are clusters of proteins that respond to stresses such as infection or injury by releasing cytokines. The scientists demonstrated that an immune response did not occur in those animals with the deficient Nalp3 inflammasomes despite the inclusion of alum while it did occur in normal mice.

    The study was published on May 21 in Nature.