Studies on dendritic cells (DC) of the respiratory and gastric mucosae have identified an extensive network of cells that represent the predominant antigen-presenting cell type at these sites. Under steady-state conditions, respiratory tract DC (RTDC) are specialized for antigen uptake and spontaneously migrate to local lymph nodes, although in vivo transfer studies have shown that the T-cell priming activity of these cells is restricted to low-level, Th2-skewed responses. Following exposure to inflammatory stimuli, the migration of RTDC to lymph nodes is accelerated and is associated with a rapid and dramatic increase in the ability of these cells to induce both Th1- and Th2-dependent immunity. Under normal circumstances, however, responsiveness of epithelial RTDC to maturation stimuli is regulated by locally produced micro-environmental factors, including pro-inflammatory cytokines, reactive oxygen species and prostanoids. These studies have led to a greater understanding of airway DC function and their role in T helper cell differentiation and provide the basis for future studies to determine the role of the cells in the aetiology and pathogenesis of respiratory immunoinflammatory disorders.