The mammalian blood system, containing more than 10 distinct mature cell types, stands on one specific cell type, hematopoietic stem cell (HSC). Within the system, only HSCs possess the ability of both multipotency and self-renewal. Multipotency is the ability to differentiate into all functional blood cells. Self-renewal is the ability to give rise to HSC itself without differentiation. Since mature blood cells (MBCs) are predominantly short-lived, HSCs continuously provide more differentiated progenitors while properly maintaining the HSC pool size throughout life by precisely balancing self-renewal and differentiation. Thus, understanding the mechanisms of self-renewal and differentiation of HSC has been a central issue. In this review, we focus on the hierarchical structure of the hematopoietic system, the current understanding of microenvironment and molecular cues regulating self-renewal and differentiation of adult HSCs, and the currently emerging systems approaches to understand HSC biology. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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