Burkholderia cenocepacia is a member of the B. cepacia complex (Bcc), a group of opportunistic bacteria that infect the airways of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) and are extraordinarily resistant to almost all clinically useful antibiotics. Infections in CF patients with Bcc bacteria generally lead to a more rapid decline in lung function, and in some cases to the 'cepacia syndrome', a virtually deadly exacerbation of the lung infection with systemic manifestations. These characteristics of Bcc bacteria contribute to higher morbidity and mortality in infected CF patients. In the last 10 years considerable progress has been made in understanding the interactions between Bcc bacteria and mammalian host cells. Bcc isolates can survive either intracellularly within eukaryotic cells or extracellularly in host tissues. They survive within phagocytes and respiratory epithelial cells, and they have the ability to breach the respiratory epithelium layer. Survival and persistence of Bcc bacteria within host cells and tissues are believed to play a key role in pulmonary infection and to contribute to the persistent inflammation observed in patients with CF. This review summarizes recent findings concerning the interaction between Bcc bacteria and epithelial and phagocytic cells.