Stem cells share the defining characteristics of self-renewal, which maintains or expands the stem-cell pool, and multi-lineage differentiation, which generates and regenerates tissues. Stem-cell self-renewal and differentiation are influenced by the convergence of intrinsic cellular signals and extrinsic microenvironmental cues from the surrounding stem-cell niche, but the specific signals involved are poorly understood. Recently, several studies have sought to identify the genetic mechanisms that underlie the stem-cell phenotype. Such a molecular road map of stem-cell function should lead to an understanding of the true potential of stem cells.
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