Rare cells with adult stem cell activity were recently discovered in human endometrium. Endometrial stem/progenitor cell candidates include epithelial, mesenchymal and endothelial cells, and all may contribute to the rapid endometrial regeneration following menstruation, rather than a single candidate. Endometrial mesenchymal stem-like cells (eMSC) are prospectively isolated as CD146+PDGF-Rβ+ cells and are found in both basalis and functionalis as perivascular cells. Epithelial progenitor cells are detected in colony forming unit assays but their identity awaits elucidation. They are postulated to reside in the basalis in gland bases. Endometrial stem/progenitor cells may be derived from endogenous stem cells, but emerging evidence suggests a bone marrow contribution. Endometrial endothelial progenitor cells are detected as side population cells, which express several endothelial cell markers and differentiate into endometrial glandular epithelial, stromal and endothelial cells. Investigating endometrial stem cell biology is crucial to understanding normal endometrial physiology and to determine their roles in endometrial proliferative diseases. The nature of endometriosis suggests that initiation of ectopic endometrial lesions involves endometrial stem/progenitor cells, a notion compatible with Sampson's retrograde menstruation theory and supported by the demonstration of eMSC in menstrual blood. Evidence of cancer stem cells (CSC) in endometrial cancer indicates that new avenues for developing therapeutic options targeting CSC may become available. We provide an overview of the accumulating evidence for endometrial stem/progenitor cells and their possible roles in endometrial proliferative disorders, and discuss the unresolved issues.
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