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Cell Potency: Totipotent vs Pluripotent vs Multipotent Stem Cells

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Credit: Technology Networks
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Cell potency refers to the varying ability of stem cells to differentiate into specialized cell types.1 Cells with the greatest potency can generate more cells types than those with lower potency.


Hierarchy of cell potency

-    -Totipotent stem cells

-    Pluripotent stem cells

-    Multipotent stem cells

Totipotent vs pluripotent vs multipotent comparison chart

Hierarchy of cell potency

Totipotent stem cells 

Totipotent (omnipotent) stem cells can give rise to any of the 220 cell types found in an embryo as well as extra-embryonic cells (placenta).

Pluripotent stem cells

Pluripotent stem cells can give rise to all cell types of the body (but not the placenta). 

Multipotent stem cells

Multipotent stem cells can develop into a limited number of cell types in a particular lineage.

The hierarchy of the stem cell types and the cells that can be produced from each type

Credit: Technology Networks

Totipotent vs pluripotent vs multipotent comparison chart





Relative potency




Cell types capable of generating

Differentiate into any cell type

Differentiate into cells from any of the three germ layers

Differentiate into a limited range of cell types


Toti = Whole

Pluri = Many

Multi = Several


Zygote, early morula

Embryonic stem cells, Induced pluripotent stem cells

Hematopoietic stem cells, neural stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells


Early cells of fertilized egg

Inner mass cells of the blastocyst

In many tissues

Expression of pluripotency genes




Expression of lineage-specific genes




Pros of use in research

Easy to isolate and grow

Easy to isolate and grow

Less ethical issues, less chance of immune rejection if taken from same patient

Cons of use in research

Ethical issues

Ethical issues, teratoma formation

Hard to isolate, limited differentiation, scarce


1. Hima Bindu A, Srilatha B. Potency of various types of stem cells and their transplantation. J Stem Cell Res Ther.  2011;1:115. doi: 10.4172/2157-7633.1000115