A common question is, what is the difference between totipotent, pluripotent, and multipotent cells? The answer is simple. Totipotent stem cells are the most versatile stem cell type, because they are formed shortly after fertilization of an egg cell by a sperm cell. They can become all of the cells of the human body, as well as the cells of the embryo and developing fetus.
At about four days into development, these totipotent cells specialize slightly, becoming pluripotent stem cells.
Pluripotent stem cells can give rise to all of the cell types that form the human body, but are not as versatile as totipotent cells. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are an example of pluripotent stem cells, as are a type of “lab made” stem cell called an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS cell).
Later, multipotent stem cells form, which are again more limited in what they can become. They cells types usually prefer to become cells of a certain class or category. For example, hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are a type of multipotent stem cell that prefer to become cells of the blood and immune system, although it it possible to induce them to become other cell types.
Totipotent, Pluripotent, and Multipotent
Below, we explain the simple differences between these stem types and when each appears during the process of human development.
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