C-type lectin receptors (CLRs) expressed by dendritic cells are crucial for tailoring immune responses to pathogens. Following pathogen binding, CLRs trigger distinct signalling pathways that induce the expression of specific cytokines which determine T cell polarization fates. Some CLRs can induce signalling pathways that directly activate nuclear factor-kappaB, whereas other CLRs affect signalling by Toll-like receptors. Dissecting these signalling pathways and their effects on host immune cells is essential to understand the molecular mechanisms involved in the induction of adaptive immune responses. In this Review we describe the role of CLR signalling in regulating adaptive immunity and immunopathogenesis and discuss how this knowledge can be harnessed for the development of innovative vaccination approaches.