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As a population of homogeneous cells with both self-renewal and differentiation potential, stem cell pools are highly compartmentalized and contain distinct subsets that exhibit stable but limited heterogeneity during homeostasis. However, their striking plasticity is showcased under natural or artificial stress, such as injury, transplantation, cancer, and aging, leading to changes in their phenotype, constitution, metabolism, and function. The complex and diverse network of cell-extrinsic niches and signaling pathways, together with cell-intrinsic genetic and epigenetic regulators, tightly regulate both the heterogeneity during homeostasis and the plasticity under perturbation. Manipulating these factors offers better control of stem cell behavior and a potential revolution in the current state of regenerative medicine. However, disruptions of normal regulation by genetic mutation or excessive plasticity acquisition may contribute to the formation of tumors. By harnessing innovative techniques that enhance our understanding of stem cell heterogeneity and employing novel approaches to maximize the utilization of stem cell plasticity, stem cell therapy holds immense promise for revolutionizing the future of medicine.

Original publication




Journal article


Life sciences

Publication Date



Department of Dermatology and Venerology, Peking University First Hospital, Beijing 100034, China. Electronic address: