• ES, embryonic stem cells;
  • TS, trophoblast stem cells;
  • EG, embryonic germ cells;
  • EC, embryonal carcinoma cells;
  • mouse embryo

Abstract Cells resident in an organism that possess the dual capacity for self-renewal and differentiation into a spectrum of subtypes are referred to as stem cells. In the past decade, basic research performed on stem cells has shed light on the molecular pathways operating in vivo which can be harnessed in vitro for the establishment of cell lines mirroring the stem cells in the organism. The attractiveness of stem cells as in vitro models of organotypic differentiation and their potential application in a clinical context holds great promise and is only beginning to be exploited. Stem cells can be broadly grouped into two categories based on their origin from either the embryonic or the adult. Only the early embryo possesses truly pluripotent cells that can give rise to all the cell types present in the embryo proper and adult. The adult, on the other hand, possesses specialized, tissue- or organ-specific stem cell types, which can give rise to the differentiated cell types of that specific organ and have in some instances been shown to transdifferentiate. However, no stem cell obtained from an adult organism has yet been shown to exhibit developmental potential matching the breadth of that of stem cells obtained from embryos. This review focuses on the different types of stem cells that are resident in early stage mammalian embryos, detailing their derivation and propagation in addition to highlighting their developmental potential and opportunities for future applications.