Vaccines and immunotherapies involve a variety of technologies and act through different mechanisms to achieve a common goal, which is to optimize the immune response against an antigen. The antigen could be a molecule expressed on a pathogen (e.g., a disease-causing bacterium, a virus or another microorganism), abnormal or damaged host cells (e.g., cancer cells), environmental agent (e.g., nicotine from a tobacco smoke), or an allergen (e.g., pollen or food protein). Immunogenic vaccines and therapies optimize the immune response to improve the eradication of the pathogen or damaged cells. In contrast, tolerogenic vaccines and therapies retrain or blunt the immune response to antigens, which are recognized by the immune system as harmful to the host. To optimize the immune response to either improve the immunogenicity or induce tolerance, researchers employ different routes of administration, antigen-delivery systems, and adjuvants. Nanocarriers and adjuvants are of particular interest to the fields of vaccines and immunotherapy as they allow for targeted delivery of the antigens and direct the immune response against these antigens in desirable direction (i.e., to either enhance immunogenicity or induce tolerance). Recently, nanoparticles gained particular attention as antigen carriers and adjuvants. This review focuses on a particular subclass of nanoparticles, which are made of nucleic acids, so-called nucleic acid nanoparticles or NANPs. Immunological properties of these novel materials and considerations for their clinical translation are discussed.
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