The stem cell niche: tissue physiology at a single cell level.
Stem cells are the critical unit affecting tissue maintenance, regeneration, and repair, with particular relevance to the tissues with high cell turnover. Stem cell regulation accommodates the conflicting needs of prompt responsiveness to injury and long-term preservation through quiescence. They are, in essence, the fundamental unit by which a tissue handles changing physiologic needs throughout the lifetime of the organism. As such, they are the focal point of dynamic tissue function, and their governance is physiology expressed at a cellular and molecular level. Here, we discuss the multiple components representing the stem cell niche in hematopoiesis and argue for a unbiased mapping of the niche constituents under different conditions as the first step in developing systems physiology.