Cutaneous melanoma is highly immunogenic, yet primary melanomas and metastases develop successfully in otherwise immunocompetent patients. To investigate the local immunosuppressive microenvironment, we examined the presence of suppressor T lymphocytes and tolerising dendritic cells (DCs), the expression of immunosuppressive cytokines (IL-10, TGFbeta1 and TGFbeta2) and the enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) using qRT-PCR and immunohistochemistry in primary skin melanomas, negative and positive sentinel lymph nodes (SLN), and lymph nodes with advanced metastases. Our results indicate that tolerogenic DCs and suppressor T lymphocytes are present in melanoma at all stages of disease progression. They express transforming growth factor beta receptor 1 (TGFbetaR1), and are therefore susceptible to TGFbeta1 and TGFbeta2 specifically expressed by primary melanoma. We found that expression of IDO and interleukin 10 (IL-10) increased with melanoma progression, with the highest concentration in positive SLN. We suggest that negative SLN contain immunosuppressive cells and cytokines, due to preconditioning by tolerogenic DCs migrating from the primary melanoma site to the SLN. In primary melanoma, TGFbeta2 is likely to render peripheral DCs tolerogenic, while in lymph nodes IDO and TGFbeta1 may have a major effect. This mechanism of tumour-associated immunosuppression may inhibit the immune response to the tumour and may explain the discrepancy between the induction of systemic immunity by anti-melanoma vaccines and their poor performance in the clinic.