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Keywords:

  • cellular mimicry;
  • cellular mosaic;
  • dedifferentiation;
  • differentiation;
  • embryonic stem cells;
  • epigenetic;
  • hematopoietic stem cells;
  • histone modification;
  • regeneration;
  • reprogramming;
  • stem cells;
  • transdifferentiation

Abstract

Recent progress in stem cell biology and the reprogramming of somatic cells to a pluripotent phenotype has generated a new wave of excitement in regenerative medicine. Nonetheless, efforts aimed at understanding transdifferentiation, dedifferentiation, and the plasticity of cells, as well as the ability of somatic cells to be reprogrammed, has raised as many questions as those that have been answered. This review proffers the argument that many reports of transdifferentiation, dedifferentiation, and unexpected stem cell plasticity may be due to aberrant processes that lead to cellular look-alikes (cellular mimicry). In most cases, cellular look-alikes can now be identified readily by monitoring gene expression profiles, as well as epigenetic modifications of DNA and histone proteins of the cells involved. This review further argues that progress in regenerative medicine will be significantly hampered by failing to address the issue of cellular look-alikes. Developmental Dynamics 236:3199–3207, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.