Successful vaccination against any potential pathogen is critically dependent on inducing an appropriate immune response. The pivotal role of cytokines in the immune response to vaccination suggests that non-protective responses or responses that exacerbate disease subsequent to infectious challenge may be the result of limiting or preferential production of one or a number of these mediators. This suggests that the use of recombinant cytokines as vaccine adjuvants may offer a mechanism whereby the magnitude and phenotype of the immune response to vaccination can be specifically modified. In mice, recombinant cytokines have been used extensively as therapeutics, while studies describing vaccine adjuvant activity are more limited. Recombinant (r) interleukin (IL)-1, IL-2 and interferon (IFN) gamma have been used primarily to enhance humoral responses with enhanced protection assessed where appropriate. Cytokine adjuvant studies in ruminants have been restricted to recombinant ovine (rov) and bovine (rbov) IL-1 and IL-2. In sheep, their application has been optimised with respect to dose, route of delivery and formulation, for induction of humoral and cell mediated immunity (DTH and cytotoxicity) to the model protein antigen (Ag) avidin. The level of adjuvant activity of IL-1 in particular compares favourably to that of a variety of other traditional and new chemical adjuvants and detailed analysis has indicated no adverse local or systemic side-effects. Recent studies in our laboratory demonstrating the effectiveness of rovIL-1 as an adjuvant in single and multi-component bacterial toxoid vaccines, and studies from other laboratories demonstrating the application of rbovIL-1 as an adjuvant for the response in cattle to live attenuated viral vaccines, suggest that rIL-1 may become the adjuvant of choice for diseases where protection is mediated by high levels of circulating antibody (Ab). With respect to helminth parasites, IL-1 may prove useful as a component of vaccines based on "hidden Ags" which rely on induction of Ab. Based on analysis in mouse models of helminth infection, other cytokines such as IL-4 and IL-10 may be appropriate for vaccines based on induction of mechanisms involved in natural immunity.