Influenza vaccination is less efficacious in the elderly than in the young. To characterize this age-related decrease in immune response to influenza vaccination, antibody and cell-mediated responses to influenza vaccine were assessed before immunization and 4 weeks after vaccination of a population of 270 healthy elderly individuals (mean age: 80.2 years) living in eight local continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and 30 young individuals (mean age: 27.8 years). The antibody titres produced against all three influenza strains increased significantly after vaccination in both the young and elderly (p < 0.0005); however, the young demonstrated significantly higher titres to all three strains than did the elderly (p < 0.03). Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) cultured with influenza vaccine demonstrated significantly increased proliferation (elderly: p < 0.00005; young: p < 0.001) after vaccination, with proliferative responses in the young significantly higher than the elderly both before (p < 0.04) and after (p < 0.0005) vaccination. Similarly, IFN gamma production in these PBMC cultures increased significantly pre- to postvaccination in both young and elderly (young: p < 0.006; elderly: p < 0.00005), but the young produced more than the elderly both pre- and postvaccination (p < 0.0001). Following vaccination, PBMC production of IL-10 was higher in the young than in the elderly (p < 0.0015), while IL-6 production was comparable in both young and elderly individuals. Greater than 13% of the elderly population did not produce detectable IL-6, IL-10, or IFN gamma either before or after vaccination. The data show that the decreased cell-mediated and humoral responses to influenza vaccination of this healthy elderly population are accompanied by the production of lower levels of cytokines. A unique finding in this population of 270 healthy elderly was the association between a TH0 cytokine profile and intact immune responses to influenza vaccine. A similar relationship was not seen in the young.