BACKGROUND: H1N1 influenza viruses mutate rapidly, rendering vaccines developed in any given year relatively ineffective in subsequent years. Thus it is necessary to generate new vaccines every year, but this is time-consuming and resource-intensive. Should a highly virulent influenza strain capable of human-to-human transmission emerge, these factors will severely limit the number of people that can be effectively immunised against that strain in time to prevent a pandemic. An adjuvant and mode of administration capable of rendering ordinarily unprotective vaccine doses protective would thus be highly advantageous. METHODS: The carbohydrate mannan was conjugated to whole inactivated H1N1 influenza virus at a range of ratios, and mixed with it at a range of ratios, and various doses of the resulting preparations were administered to mice via the intranasal (IN) route. Serum immunity was assessed via antigen-specific IgG ELISA and the haemagglutination-inhibition (HI) assay, and mucosal immunity was assessed via IgA ELISA of bronchio-alveolar lavages. RESULTS: IN-administered inactivated H1N1 mixed with mannan induced higher serum IgG and respiratory-tract IgA than inactivated H1N1 conjugated to mannan, and HIN1 alone. Adjuvantation was mannan-dose-dependent, with 100 mug of mannan adjuvanting 1 mug of H1N1 more effectively than 10 or 50 mug of mannan. Serum samples from mice immunised with 1 mug H1N1 adjuvanted with 10 mug mannan did not inhibit agglutination of red blood cells (RBCs) at a dilution factor of 10 in the HI assay, but samples resulting from adjuvantation with 50 and 100 mug mannan inhibited agglutination at dilution factors of >/= 40. Both serum IgG1 and IgG2a were induced by IN mannan-adjuvanted H1N1 vaccination, suggesting the induction of humoral and cellular immunity. CONCLUSIONS: Mixing 100 mug of mannan with 1 mug of inactivated H1N1 adjuvanted the vaccine in mice, such that IN immunisation induced higher serum IgG and respiratory tract IgA than immunisation with virus alone. The serum from mice thus immunised inhibited H1N1-mediated RBC agglutination strongly in vitro. If mannan similarly adjuvants low doses of influenza vaccine in humans, it could potentially be used for vaccine ‘dose-sparing’ in the event that a vaccine shortage arises from an epidemic involving a highly virulent human-to-human transmissable influenza strain.