Dendritic cells (DC) are potent antigen-presenting cells that are critical in the initiation of immune responses to control and/or eliminate viral infections. Recent studies have investigated the effects of virus infection on the biology of DC. This review summarizes these changes, focusing on both the DC parameters affected and the viral factors involved. In addition, the central role of DC biology in the pathogenesis of several viral families, including herpesviruses, paramyxoviruses and retroviruses, is explored. The field of pathogen recognition by DC is addressed, focusing on its role in protecting the host from viral infection, as well as the ability of viruses to exploit such host receptor ligation and signalling to their replicative advantage. The hypothesis is proposed that virus and host have evolved a symbiotic relationship to ensure both viral transmission and host survival.