Ly49H(+)NK1.1(+) natural killer (NK) cells are essential for the control of murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) during the acute stage of infection. This cell subset expands at the later stages of infection in an MCMV-specific fashion. Here we demonstrate a critical interaction between Ly49H(+) NK cells and CD8alpha(+) dendritic cells (DCs) whereby the presence of Ly49H(+) NK cells results in maintenance of CD8alpha(+) DCs in the spleen during acute MCMV infection. Reciprocally, CD8alpha(+) DCs are essential for the expansion of Ly49H(+) NK cells by a mechanism involving interleukin 18 (IL-18) and IL-12. This study provides evidence for a functional interrelationship between DCs and NK cells during viral infection and defines some of the critical cytokines.