The existence of multipotent cells in the adult tissues and organs of those vertebrates that are capable of regeneration has been accepted for decades. Although studies of vertebrate limb regeneration have yet to identify many of the specific molecules involved in regeneration, numerous tissue grafting experiments and studies of cell lineage have contributed significantly to an understanding of the origin, activation, proliferation and cell-cell interactions of these progenitor cells. This has allowed the development of ideas about the regulation of pattern formation to restore the structure and function of lost tissues and organs. An understanding of the molecular mechanisms controlling these processes has lagged behind the dramatic advances achieved with other model organisms. However, given the intense, new research interest in stem cells over the past few years, there is good reason to be encouraged that insights about the biology of mammalian stem cells will accelerate progress in understanding the biology of regeneration in organisms that can regenerate. Advances in regeneration research will then feed back in terms of devising new strategies for therapies to induce regeneration in organisms such as humans that have traditionally been viewed as incapable of regeneration.