Dendritic cells (DCs) are pivotal regulators of immune reactivity and immune tolerance. The observation that DCs can recruit naive T cells has invigorated cancer immunology and led to the proposal of DCs as the basis for vaccines designed for the treatment of cancer. Designing effective strategies to load DCs with antigens is a challenging field of research. The successful realization of gene transfer to DCs will be highly dependent on the employed vector system. Here, we review various viral and non-viral gene transfer systems, and discuss their distinct characteristics and possible advantages and disadvantages in respect to their use in DC-based immunotherapy. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.