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Adjuvanted protein vaccines offer high efficacy, yet most potent adjuvants remain proprietary. Several adjuvant compounds are being developed by the Vaccine Formulation Institute in Switzerland for global open access clinical use. In the context of the R21 malaria vaccine, in a mouse challenge model, we characterize the efficacy and mechanism of action of four Vaccine Formulation Institute adjuvants: two liposomal (LQ and LMQ) and two squalene emulsion-based adjuvants (SQ and SMQ), containing QS-21 saponin (Q) and optionally a synthetic TLR4 agonist (M). Two R21 vaccine formulations, R21/LMQ and R21/SQ, offer the highest protection (81%-100%), yet they trigger different innate sensing mechanisms in macrophages with LMQ, but not SQ, activating the NLRP3 inflammasome. The resulting in vivo adaptive responses have a different TH1/TH2 balance and engage divergent innate pathways while retaining high protective efficacy. We describe how modular changes in vaccine formulation allow for the dissection of the underlying immune pathways, enabling future mechanistically informed vaccine design.

Original publication




Journal article


Cell Rep Med

Publication Date



NLRP3, QS-21, TLR4, adjuvants, emulsions, inflammasome, liposomes, malaria, saponin, vaccines