I'd like to understand better how stem cells produce fully differentiated cells via progenitor cells. I assume the following:

  • Only cells that are not fully differentiated do divide at all.

  • When a stem cell divides (at least) one copy remains a stem cell (and remains at its place), the other one starts to differentiate and to travel away.

  • Between the stem cell and the fully differentiated cell there may be one or a few progenitor cells.

My questions are:

  1. How many cell generations are there between the stem cell and the fully differentiated cell?
    Any answer from "zero" or "one" (with one progenitor cell inbetween) to "quite a few" seems possible, but maybe "zero generations" do never occur, i.e. no copy of a stem cell fully differentiates at once, i.e. without an intermediate progenitor cell.

  2. How many cell generations are there between the stem cell and the last progenitor cell in the lineage from stem cell to fully differentiated cell?

  3. How many cell generations are there between the last progenitor cell and the fully differentiated cell?
    By definition there should be zero, because when there is another not fully differentiated cell between them, then this would be another progenitor cell.

The questions are for somehow typical numbers (of generations), but the answers may depend on the tissue (resp. the type of the stem cell), so it would be interesting to know how strongly (this depends).

  • $\begingroup$ The answer may depend quite a bit on the boundary between stem cells and progenitor cells, which is a bit artificial and not entirely settled upon. Also "There are essentially three or four types of adult stem cells, one for each of the three germ layers, plus one for the neural crest, possibly" is false - even a source like Wikipedia would show you that with a very cursory attempt. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 2, 2020 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause: Thanks for the hint on adult stem cell types. I deleted the remark, since it is not crucial for the question. $\endgroup$ Mar 2, 2020 at 19:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't think it will be possible to give a general answer to this question, because the number(s) you are looking for will be different for almost every cell type. Also note that some fully differentiated cells (i.e. B-cells) can & will divide under special circumstances. $\endgroup$
    – Nicolai
    Mar 3, 2020 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


From this answer to a similar question one can derive that between a hematopoeitic stem cell and a mature blood cell there may be up to 16 generations (with 216 ≈ 70,000).

  • $\begingroup$ To the downvoter: What's wrong with this argument? (I changed it a bit.) $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2020 at 10:52
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I didn't downvote, but it may be because you answered your own question on the same day you asked it by quoting an archived answer. And as you can probably agree, the answer itself is incomplete and doesn't really answer your own question adequately and contextually. That'd be my guess. On that rather reasonable basis I'd hazard to say both you and others would consider down-voting such answers. $\endgroup$
    – S Pr
    Mar 5, 2020 at 11:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .