Cells of unicellular and multicellular eukaryotes can respond to certain environmental cues by arresting the cell cycle and entering a reversible state of quiescence. Quiescent cells do not divide, but can re-enter the cell cycle and resume proliferation if exposed to some signals from the environment. Quiescent cells in mammals and humans include adult stem cells. These cells exhibit improved stress resistance and enhanced survival ability. In response to certain extrinsic signals, adult stem cells can self-renew by dividing asymmetrically. Such asymmetric divisions not only allow the maintenance of a population of quiescent cells, but also yield daughter progenitor cells. A multistep process of the controlled proliferation of these progenitor cells leads to the formation of one or more types of fully differentiated cells. An age-related decline in the ability of adult stem cells to balance quiescence maintenance and regulated proliferation has been implicated in many aging-associated diseases. In this review, we describe many traits shared by different types of quiescent adult stem cells. We discuss how these traits contribute to the quiescence, self-renewal, and proliferation of adult stem cells. We examine the cell-intrinsic mechanisms that allow establishing and sustaining the characteristic traits of adult stem cells, thereby regulating quiescence entry, maintenance, and exit.
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