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In modern vaccines, adjuvants can be sophisticated immunological tools to promote robust and long-lasting protection against prevalent diseases. However, there is an urgent need to improve immunogenicity of vaccines in order to protect mankind from life-threatening diseases such as AIDS, malaria or, most recently, COVID-19. Therefore, it is important to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of action of vaccine adjuvants, which generally trigger the innate immune system to enhance signal transition to adaptive immunity, resulting in pathogen-specific protection. Thus, improved understanding of vaccine adjuvant mechanisms may aid in the design of "intelligent" vaccines to provide robust protection from pathogens. Various commonly used clinical adjuvants, such as aluminium salts, saponins or emulsions, have been identified as activators of inflammasomes - multiprotein signalling platforms that drive activation of inflammatory caspases, resulting in secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines of the IL-1 family. Importantly, these cytokines affect the cellular and humoral arms of adaptive immunity, which indicates that inflammasomes represent a valuable target of vaccine adjuvants. In this review, we highlight the impact of different inflammasomes on vaccine adjuvant-induced immune responses regarding their mechanisms and immunogenicity. In this context, we focus on clinically relevant adjuvants that have been shown to activate the NLRP3 inflammasome and also present various experimental adjuvants that activate the NLRP3-, NLRC4-, AIM2-, pyrin-, or non-canonical inflammasomes and could have the potential to improve future vaccines. Together, we provide a comprehensive overview on vaccine adjuvants that are known, or suggested, to promote immunogenicity through inflammasome-mediated signalling.

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The Jenner Institute, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7DQ, UK.