The NF-κB protein RelB controls dendritic cell (DC) maturation and may be targeted therapeutically to manipulate T cell responses in disease. Here we report that RelB promoted DC activation not as the expected RelB-p52 effector of the noncanonical NF-κB pathway, but as a RelB-p50 dimer regulated by canonical IκBs, IκBα and IκBɛ. IκB control of RelB minimized spontaneous maturation but enabled rapid pathogen-responsive maturation. Computational modeling of the NF-κB signaling module identified control points of this unexpected cell type-specific regulation. Fibroblasts that we engineered accordingly showed DC-like RelB control. Canonical pathway control of RelB regulated pathogen-responsive gene expression programs. This work illustrates the potential utility of systems analyses in guiding the development of combination therapeutics for modulating DC-dependent T cell responses.