The immune system of vertebrate animals has evolved to respond to different types of perturbations (invading pathogens, stress signals), limiting self-tissue damage. The decision to activate an immune response is made by antigen-presenting cells (APCs) that are quiescent until they encounter a foreign microorganism or inflammatory stimuli. Early activated APCs trigger innate immune responses that represent the first line of reaction against invading pathogens to limit the infections. At later times, activated APCs acquire the ability to prime antigen-specific immune responses that clear the infections and give rise to memory. During the immune response self-tissue damage is limited and tolerance to self is maintained through life. Among the cells that constitute the immune system, dendritic cells (DC) play a central role. They are extremely versatile APCs involved in the initiation of both innate and adaptive immunity and also in the differentiation of regulatory T cells required for the maintenance of self-tolerance. How DC can mediate these diverse and almost contradictory functions has recently been investigated. The plasticity of these cells allows them to undergo a complete genetic reprogramming in response to external microbial stimuli with the sequential acquisition of different regulatory functions in innate and adaptive immunity. The specific genetic reprogramming DC undergo upon activation can be easily investigated by using microarrays to perform global gene expression analysis in different conditions.