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Arch Med Res. 2003 Nov-Dec;34(6):600-6.

Stem cell plasticity: the growing potential of cellular therapy.

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  • 1Department of Hematology-Oncology, Divisions of Stem Cell Transplantation and Experimental Hematology, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, TN 38105, USA.


The fundamental principle of stem cell biology is that cells with the potential for both self-renewal and terminal differentiation into one or more cell types may be found in a given tissue. The corollary of this principle is that the stem cells give rise to tissues in which they reside, the so-called expected tissues. Many exciting discoveries reported over the last several years challenge this paradigm by showing that there are not only tissue-specific stem cells that differentiate to the expected mature cells, but also that tissue stem cells can differentiate into unexpected cell lineages, suggesting an enormous plasticity of differentiation. Hematopoietic stem cells, which have drawn the most attention, mesenchymal stem cells, and neural stem cells have been the focus of many investigations. However, recent studies directed toward hematopoietic stem cells have disputed the concept of stem cell plasticity, suggesting that experimental artifact or somatic cell fusion may account for reported observations of plasticity. Although the data are mounting, stem cell plasticity, strictly defined, has yet to be rigorously proven. Animal models to meticulously define the biology and potential plasticity of stem cells and pilot clinical trials to begin to explore the biology and therapeutic potential of human stem cells will both be vital to advance the field over the coming years.

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