Atherosclerosis is the root cause of many cardiovascular diseases. Extensive research in preclinical models and emerging evidence in humans have established the crucial roles of the innate and adaptive immune systems in driving atherosclerosis-associated chronic inflammation in arterial blood vessels. New techniques have highlighted the enormous heterogeneity of leukocyte subsets in the arterial wall that have pro-inflammatory or regulatory roles in atherogenesis. Understanding the homing and activation pathways of these immune cells, their disease-associated dynamics and their regulation by microbial and metabolic factors will be crucial for the development of clinical interventions for atherosclerosis, including potentially vaccination-based therapeutic strategies. Here, we review key molecular mechanisms of immune cell activation implicated in modulating atherogenesis and provide an update on the contributions of innate and adaptive immune cell subsets in atherosclerosis.