Nonresponsiveness against hepatitis B vaccination has been described in 4-10% of immunized subjects. We have explored the specific cell response to hepatitis B surface antigen by analyzing: PBMC proliferation, cytokine production (Th1, Th2 profiles, and TGF-beta), and activation molecules on Th cells. A poor proliferative response was demonstrated in nonresponders (P < 0.05). T cells from responders produced all tested cytokines (P < 0.01), in contrast with nonresponders subjects (P < 0.05). Expression of CD69 and CD25 was diminished in T cells from nonresponders (P < 0.01). A reduced expression of CD40L was also detected in T cells from nonresponders (P < 0.01). An elevated correlation coefficient was observed between CD40L on CD4+ cells and antibody production. These results suggest an overall inability of T cells to be activated which could be consistent with potential differences in antigen presentation. In conclusion, our results suggest that an altered Th response may be a consequence of inappropriate early activation events.