In the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases, tolerance against self-determinants is lost and autoreactive lymphocytes are activated leading to pathological damage of single or multiple organs. Viral and other microbial infections have been implicated in these processes. Viruses may induce immunopathological damage by maintaining a chronic immune response against the locally persisting infectious agent. Alternatively, viruses may help to initiate anti-self immunoreactivity, e.g. by induction of an inflammatory milieu needed to overcome tolerance against self-antigens. Presentation of viral antigens and/or previously immunologically ignored self-antigens in secondary lymphoid organs is most probably the key event in the initiation of autoimmune diseases. Translocation of antigens to secondary lymphoid organs and primary induction of T cell responses is primarily mediated by dendritic cells (DCs). We discuss here two transgenic models of autoimmune diseases where DC-mediated antigen transport initiated autoimmune responses against microbial neoself antigens. In the first model, dose and timing of antigen delivery by DCs and turnover of antigenic peptides presented by DCs are the main parameters regulating the outcome of autoimmune diabetes. In the second model, chronic stimulation of organ-specific immune responses via DCs leads to severe cardiovascular immunopathology with arteritis, myocarditis and eventually dilated cardiomyopathy. Taken together, transgenic mouse models are valuable tools for delineating basic pathogenic mechanisms and evaluating therapeutic strategies to interfere with early detrimental processes that lead to manifest autoimmune diseases.