It has recently been shown that the progeny from a single cell may comprise the epithelial population of a fully developed lactating mammary outgrowth in mice. Serial transplantation of epithelial fragments from this clonally derived gland demonstrates that the subsequently generated outgrowths are also comprised of progeny from the original antecedent. All epithelial cell types were found to be present within these clonal normal populations including luminal, myoepithelial, ductal, and lobule-committed epithelial progenitors and fully competent mammary epithelial stem cells. These observations demonstrate the presence of multipotent tissue-specific epithelial stem cells among the parenchyma of the murine mammary gland. Similarly, genetic analysis of contiguous portions of individual human mammary ducts within the same breast indicates their clonal derivation. Here, we discuss the properties, location, division-potential, senescence, and plasticity associated with mammary epithelial stem cells and present the developing evidence for their presence in human breast and their important role in the risk for breast cancer development. Further, we review the present morphologic and genetic evidence for the characterization of specific stem cell markers and lineage-limited progenitor cells in human and rodent mammary epithelium. Microsc. Res. Tech. 52:190-203, 2001. Published 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.