[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: With the intense international response to the AIDS pandemic, HIV vaccines have been extensively investigated but have failed due to issues of safety or efficacy in humans. Adjuvants for HIV/AIDS vaccines are under intense research but a rational design approach is still lacking. Nanomaterials represent an obvious opportunity in this field due to their unique physicochemical properties. Gold nanostructures are being actively studied as a promising and versatile platform for biomedical application. Herein, we report novel surface-engineered gold nanorods (NRs) used as promising DNA vaccine adjuvant for HIV treatment. We have exploited the effects of surface chemistry on the adjuvant activity of the gold nanorod by placing three kinds of molecules, that is, cetyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB), poly(diallydimethylammonium chloride) (PDDAC), and polyethyleneimine (PEI) on the surface of the nanorod. These PDDAC- or PEI-modified Au NRs can significantly promote cellular and humoral immunity as well as T cell proliferation through activating antigen-presenting cells if compared to naked HIV-1 Env plasmid DNA treatment in vivo. These findings have shed light on the rational design of low-toxic nanomaterials as a versatile platform for vaccine nanoadjuvants/delivery systems.