Natural killer (NK) cells and dendritic cells (DCs), two important components of the immune system, can exchange bidirectional activating signals in a positive feedback. Myeloid DCs, the cell type specialised in the presentation of antigen and initiation of antigen-specific immune responses, have recently been documented to be involved in supporting innate immunity, promoting the production of cytokines and cytotoxicity of NK cells, and enhancing their tumouricidal activity. Natural interferon-producing cells/plasmacytoid DCs (IPCs/PDCs) play an additional role in NK cell activation. Reciprocally, NK cells, traditionally considered to be major innate effector cells, have also recently been shown to play immunoregulatory 'helper' functions, being able to activate DCs and to enhance their ability to produce pro-inflammatory cytokines, and to stimulate T helper (Th) 1 and cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses of tumour-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. Activated NK cells induce the maturation of myeloid DCs into stable type-1 polarised DCs (DC1), characterised by up to a 100-fold enhanced ability to produce IL-12p70 in response to subsequent interaction with Th cells. In addition, the ability of NK cells to kill tumour cells may facilitate the generation of tumour-related antigenic material, further accelerating the induction of tumour-specific immunity. DC1, induced by NK cells or by NK cell-related soluble factors, are stable, resistant to tumour-related suppressive factors, and demonstrate a strongly enhanced ability to induce Th1 and CTL responses in human in vitro and mouse in vivo models. Compared with the standard mature DCs that are used in clinical trials at present, human NK cell-induced DC1s act as superior inducers of anticancer CTL responses during in vitro sensitisation. This provides a strong rationale for the combined use of NK cells and DCs in the immunotherapy of patients with cancer and patients with chronic infections that are resistant to standard forms of treatment. Stage I/II clinical trials that are being implemented at present should allow evaluation of the immunological and clinical efficacy of combined NK-DC therapy of melanoma and other cancers.