Mammalian epidermis is maintained through proliferation of stem cells and differentiation of their progeny. The balance between self-renewal and differentiation is controlled by a variety of interacting intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Although the nature of these interactions is complex, they can be modeled in a reductionist fashion by capturing single epidermal stem cells on micropatterned substrates and exposing them to individual stimuli, alone or in combination, over defined time points. These studies have shown that different extrinsic stimuli trigger a common outcome-initiation of terminal differentiation-by activating different signaling pathways and eliciting different transcriptional responses.
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