About 10% of health care professionals vaccinated against hepatitis B virus (HBV) fail to develop protective antibodies. We tested the capacity of peripheral blood lymphocytes from 121 health care professionals, including 76 non-responders, to proliferate to four HBV vaccines, examined the proliferating cells' subset, production of IFN-gamma, IL-4 and IL-10, and for 22 subjects, the cytokine production genotype. Specific proliferative responses to at least one HBV antigen were noted in 75% humoral non-responders. These cells differed from the CD4+ strongly proliferating cells of responders. Non-responders frequently displayed a genotype of high TGF-beta and intermediate IL-10 secretion. Most humoral non-responders to HBV thus develop specific cellular immune responses, eventually liable to protect them against viral infection.