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Innate immunity is critical for shaping vaccine-elicited adaptive immune responses. Several classes of immune sensors, including Toll-like receptors, retinoic acid-inducible gene-I-like receptors, nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain-like receptors and cytosolic DNA receptors mediate important innate immune pathways and provide potential targets for novel adjuvant development. Understanding how innate immunity modulates adaptive immune responses will probably be important for optimizing vaccine candidates. Here, we review recent advances in innate immunity, focusing upon their potential applications in developing adjuvants and vectors for HIV vaccines.