The mechanisms of dengue virus (DENV) pathogenesis are little understood because we have no models of disease; only humans develop symptoms (dengue fever, DF, or dengue hemorrhagic fever, DHF) and research has been limited to studies involving patients. DENV is very diverse: there are four antigenic groups (serotypes) and three to five genetic groups (genotypes) within each serotype. Thus, it has been difficult to evaluate the relative virulence or transmissibility of each DENV genotype; both of these factors are important determinants of epidemiology and their measurement is complex because the natural cycle of this disease involves human-mosquito-human transmission. Although epidemiological and evolutionary studies have pointed to viral factors in determining disease outcome, only recently developed models could prove the importance of specific viral genotypes in causing severe epidemics and their potential to spread to other continents. These new models involve infection of primary human cell cultures, "humanized" mice and field-collected mosquitoes; also, new mathematical models can estimate the impact of viral replication, human immunity and mosquito transmission on epidemic behavior. DENV evolution does not seem to be rapid and the transmission and dispersal of stable, replication-fit genotypes has been more important in the causation of more severe epidemics. Controversy regarding viral determinants of DENV pathogenesis and epidemiology will continue until virulence and transmissibility can be measured under various conditions.