B and T lymphocytes are the mediators of immunity, but their function is under the control of dendritic cells. Dendritic cells in the periphery capture and process antigens, express lymphocyte co-stimulatory molecules, migrate to lymphoid organs and secrete cytokines to initiate immune responses. They not only activate lymphocytes, they also tolerize T cells to antigens that are innate to the body (self-antigens), thereby minimizing autoimmune reactions. Once a neglected cell type, dendritic cells can now be readily obtained in sufficient quantities to allow molecular and cell biological analysis. With knowledge comes the realization that these cells are a powerful tool for manipulating the immune system.