The present study was designed to determine the correlation among dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), cortisol plasma levels, and immune functionality at the time of vaccination with antibody response to influenza vaccination in young and old, healthy volunteers. Fifty-two elderly subjects, ages 63-85 years, and 14 young subjects, ages 26-41 years, entered the study. Plasma levels of DHEA and cortisol and in vitro cytokine production in response to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) by peripheral blood leukocytes were assessed at the time of vaccination, and antibody titer was measured before and 18 days after influenza virus vaccination. Elderly subjects were characterized by an increase in the cortisol:DHEA ratio, mainly as a result of a decrease in DHEA. A decrease in LPS-induced tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), increased PHA-induced interleukin-10 (IL-10) release, and similar PHA-induced interferon-gamma production were observed in elderly subjects compared with young volunteers. Lower antibody titer to influenza A virus was observed in elderly individuals, and the seroconversion factor was found to be correlated inversely with IL-10 production and correlated directly with TNF-alpha production and to a lesser extent, with the plasma level of DHEA. These results suggest that altered cytokine production in elderly subjects at the moment of vaccination can be predictive of a low response to influenza vaccination and warrant the study of strategies to improve protection afforded by the use of vaccines.