Bacterial DNA and oligodeoxynucleotides containing immunostimulatory sequences with a CpG motif stimulated a Th1 type response in vivo. The adjuvant action of a non-coding plasmid DNA derived from pRc/CMV HBS (encoding the S region of hepatitis B surface antigen, HBsAg) in mice was investigated. The role of methylation on the adjuvanticity of the plasmid as well as the effect of vaccine formulation employed on the outcome of antigen-specific humoral and cellular responses were also studied. The results demonstrated that plasmid DNA acted as a Th1 promoting adjuvant when mixed as such or co-entrapped in liposomes with a very low dose of antigen. However. the adjuvant activity was lost when separate liposome entrapped formulations of both the antigen and the plasmid DNA were mixed, indicating a necessity for the antigen and the plasmid DNA to contact the same APC for optimal immune activation. A decreased adjuvanticity of plasmid DNA upon methylation with HpaII methyltransferase was also demonstrated. A mechanism that may help partially explain the reduction in adjuvanticity after modification of C residues is also discussed. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.