In a video on the Khan platform on stem cells, epithelial stem cells are described as unipotent stem cells, i.e. only producing one kind of specialised cell: epithelialor skin cells.

However, on a website describing the hierarchy of [stem] cell potency, skin cells are shown to be the product of multipotent stem cells:

Hierarchy of stem cell potency

Which category is correct for skin stem cells - unipotent or multipotent?


  • $\begingroup$ In order for the epidermal stem cells to become multipotent or pluripotent, they have to be induced. This involves some precisely timed chemical exposures that don't occur in nature. I think when some people refer to unipotent stem cells, they are referring to them by their natural function. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 6:41

1 Answer 1


In this article on sciencedirect.com epithelial skin cells are described as the products of epithelial multipotent stem cells and/or unipotent "progenitor" cells (which I presume is a way of describing a stem cell that only produces one type of cell - in this case an epithelialor skin cell). The epithelial multipotent stem cells can produce a variety of cells.

Most epithelial tissues self-renew throughout adult life due to the presence of multipotent stem cells and/or unipotent progenitor cells [emphases mine].

Epithelial Stem Cells and Their Lineages Epithelial stem cells can generate tissues that display a fascinating array of cellular architectures, each of which are specifically tailored for distinct functions. In this review, we will focus on four well-characterized epithelial stem cells whose tissues possess diverse architectural designs and physiology: intestine, epidermis, mammary gland, and cornea.

So it seems the answer to my question is: both.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think the main cause of the discrepancy is a lack of formal definition for "unipotent". We don't really talk about "unipotent" cells, there are "multipotent" ones like in the figure above, and then "progenitor cells". We don't really think of progenitor cells as multipotent even if they technically produce more than one final cell type; they're just the last level of stem cell before you have the final differentiated lines. There's a lot of "lumper vs splitter" issues when you get down to that level. It's not really even that clear how many "cell types" a human has. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause OK, thanks I get it. $\endgroup$
    – Naj
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 19:08

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