Three types of trivalent influenza vaccines were analysed for their in vitro stimulatory properties on immune cells from young healthy volunteers. A whole inactivated virus (WV) vaccine, a conventional subunit (c-SU) preparation and a new virosomal subunit (v-SU) vaccine were used. Blood-derived DC up-regulated MHC class II, CD54, CD80 and CD86 after exposure to WV vaccine, indicating their functional maturation, but were only moderately affected by subunit (SU) vaccines. In addition, IL-12 and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) secretion by DC were markedly enhanced by WV, but not by SU vaccines. The production of IL-2 and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) by PBMC was also strongly stimulated by WV, but much less by SU vaccines, among which the v-SU vaccine was a better stimulator of IL-2 secretion. In contrast to WV vaccine both SU vaccines were powerful stimulators of PBMC proliferation. Our results suggest that the presence of influenza core components leads to the activation of DC and triggers the production of cytokines by PBMC. SU vaccines are in contrast excellent stimulators of T cell growth. A combination of WV and SU vaccines in immunization regimes might allow optimal T cell priming as well as the efficient generation and maintenance of memory cells.