Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) of humans is caused by a novel coronavirus of zoonotic origin termed SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The virus induces severe injury of lung tissue, as well as lymphopenia and destruction of the architecture of lymphatic tissue by as-yet-unknown mechanisms. In this study, the interaction of SARS-CoV with dendritic cells (DCs), the key regulators of immune responses, was analysed. Monocyte-derived DCs were infected with SARS-CoV and analysed for viability, surface-marker expression and alpha interferon (IFN-alpha) induction. SARS-CoV infection was monitored by quantitative RT-PCR, immunofluorescence analysis and recovery experiments. SARS-CoV infected both immature and mature DCs, although replication efficiency was low. Immature DCs were activated by SARS-CoV infection and by UV-inactivated SARS-CoV. Infected DCs were still viable on day 6 post-infection, but major histocompatibility complex class I upregulation was missing, indicating that DC function was impaired. Additionally, SARS-CoV infection induced a delayed activation of IFN-alpha expression. Therefore, it is concluded that SARS-CoV has the ability to circumvent both the innate and the adaptive immune systems.