The choice of the tumor antigen preparation used for dendritic cell (DC) loading is important for optimizing DC vaccines. In the present study, we compared DCs pulsed with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) total RNA or cell lysates for their capacity to activate T cells. We showed here that HCC total RNA pulsed-DCs induced effector T lymphocyte responses which showed higher killing ability to HCC cell lines, as well as higher frequency of IFN-γ producing of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells when compared with lysate pulsed-DCs. Both of RNA and lysate loading did not influence the changes of mature DC phenotype and the capacity of inducing T cell proliferation. However, HCC lysate loading significantly inhibited the production of inflammatory cytokines IL-12p70, IFN-γ and enhanced the secretion of anti-inflammatory cytokines IL-10 of mature DCs. Our results indicated that DCs loaded with HCC RNA are superior to that loaded with lysate in priming anti-HCC CTL response, suggesting that total RNA may be a better choice for DCs-based HCC immunotherapy.