Few bacteria are capable of causing infections of the central nervous system (CNS), one of the most subtly shielded anatomical structures within the human body. Neisseria meningitidis is an important cause of bacterial meningitis and commonly affects otherwise healthy infants and adolescents. In contrast, Listeria monocytogenes is a cause of septicaemia and meningitis in neonates and immunocompromised adults. Dendritic cells (DCs) provide the physical link between the innate and adaptive immune system and play a crucial role in host defence against invading bacterial pathogens. The mechanisms of interaction of L. monocytogenes and N. meningitidis with DCs are entirely distinct. Whereas L. monocytogenes is readily phagocytosed by DCs by a serum-dependent mechanism, N. meningitidis is largely protected against phagocytotic uptake by its polysaccharide capsule. In addition, the pattern of secreted cytokines induced by L. monocytogenes is dominated by interleukin (IL)-12 and IL-18, capable of initiating a Th-1 response, whereas N. meningitidis induces high levels of proinflammatory cytokines. Therefore, we propose distinct functions of DCs in both types of bacterial meningitis.