One of the best-characterized and biologically important gene expression programmes in myeloid cells is their response to pro-inflammatory stimuli. Macrophages and DCs in particular are key mediators of immune responses, and are widely-used as prototypes to understand and define the determinants of specific and inducible gene expression. In this review we summarize advances and concepts which have been made towards the understanding of inducible gene expression, with a particular focus on insights gained using the myeloid system as a model. We discuss the emerging concept of layered control of gene regulation and cell identity by different functional classes of transcription factors; and examine recent progress to understanding the molecular processes involved, including the involvement of nucleosome positioning, chromatin modifications, and nuclear architecture. We also address the exciting but less-well understood role of non-coding RNAs in controlling specific gene expression programmes in myeloid and other cell-types.