Many of our organs can maintain and repair themselves during homeostasis and injury, as a result of the action of tissue-specific, multipotent stem cells. However, recent evidence from mammalian systems suggests that injury stimulates dramatic plasticity, or transient changes in cell potential, in both stem cells and more differentiated cells. Planarian flatworms possess abundant stem cells, making them an exceptional model for understanding the cellular behavior underlying homeostasis and regeneration. Recent discoveries of cell lineages and regeneration-specific events provide an initial framework for unraveling the complex cellular contributions to regeneration. In this review, we discuss the concept of cellular plasticity in the context of planarian regeneration, and consider the possibility that pluripotency may be a transient, probabilistic state exhibited by stem cells.
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