The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is known mainly as the mediator for the toxicity of certain xenobiotics. However, there is also much information to indicate that this transcription factor has important biological functions. Here we review the evidence that the AhR has a significant role in the regulation of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Data to support this come from studies with xenobiotic AhR ligands, phenotypic analyses of mice lacking AhR, examining the presence and regulation of the AhR within HSCs, knowledge of genes and signaling pathways regulated by the AhR, and investigations of hematopoietic disorders. Based on this information, we hypothesize that AhR expression is necessary for the proper maintenance of quiescence in HSCs, and that AhR down-regulation is essential for "escape" from quiescence and subsequent proliferation of these cells. This implicates the AhR as a negative regulator of hematopoiesis with a function of curbing excessive or unnecessary proliferation. This provides an important advantage by preventing the premature exhaustion of HSCs and sensitivity to genetic alterations, thus preserving HSC function and long-term multi-lineage generation over the lifespan of the organism. This also implicates a role of the AhR in aging processes. AhR dysregulation may result in the altered ability of HSCs to sense appropriate signals in the bone marrow microenvironment leading to hematopoietic disease. It is also reasonable to hypothesize that this protein has an important function in the regulation of other tissue stem cell populations. Suggestive evidence is consistent with a role in skin and neural stem cells.