Dendritic cells (DCs) collect and process antigens for presentation to T cells, but there are many variations on this basic theme. DCs differ in the regulatory signals they transmit, directing T cells to different types of immune response or to tolerance. Although many DC subtypes arise from separate developmental pathways, their development and function are modulated by exogenous factors. Therefore, we must study the dynamics of the DC network in response to microbial invasion. Despite the difficulty of comparing the DC systems of humans and mice, recent work has revealed much common ground.