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A constellation of intrinsic and extrinsic cellular mechanisms regulates the balance of self-renewal and differentiation in all stem cells. Stem cells, their progeny, and elements of their microenvironment make up an anatomical structure that coordinates normal homeostatic production of functional mature cells. Here we discuss the stem cell niche concept, highlight recent progress, and identify important unanswered questions. We focus on three mammalian stem cell systems where large numbers of mature cells must be continuously produced throughout adult life: intestinal epithelium, epidermal structures, and bone marrow.