Although much progress has been made in the understanding of the ontogeny and function of dendritic cells (DCs), the transcriptional regulation of the lineage commitment and functional specialization of DCs in vivo remains poorly understood. We made a comprehensive comparative analysis of CD8 +, CD103 +, CD11b + and plasmacytoid DC subsets, as well as macrophage DC precursors and common DC precursors, across the entire immune system. Here we characterized candidate transcriptional activators involved in the commitment of myeloid progenitor cells to the DC lineage and predicted regulators of DC functional diversity in tissues. We identified a molecular signature that distinguished tissue DCs from macrophages. We also identified a transcriptional program expressed specifically during the steady-state migration of tissue DCs to the draining lymph nodes that may control tolerance to self tissue antigens. © 2012 Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved.