Abstract Human CD34 + hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells are capable of maintaining a life-long supply of the entire spectrum of blood cells dependent on systemic needs. Recent studies suggest that hematopoietic stem cells are, beyond their hematopoietic potential, able to differentiate into nonhematopoietic cell types, which could open novel avenues in the field of cellular therapy. Here, we concentrate on the molecular biology underlying basic features of hematopoietic stem cells. Immunofluorescence analyses, culture assays, and transplantation models permit an extensive immunological as well as functional characterization of human hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. New methods such as cDNA array technology have demonstrated that distinct gene expression patterns of transcription factors and cell cycle genes molecularly control self-renewal, differentiation, and proliferation. Furthermore, several adhesion molecules have been shown to play an important role in the regulation of hematopoiesis and stem cell trafficking. Progress has also been made in elucidating molecular mechanisms of stem cell aging that limit replicative potential. Finally, more recent data provide the first molecular basis for a better understanding of transdifferentiation and developmental plasticity of hematopoietic stem cells. These findings could be helpful for nonhematopoietic cell therapeutic approaches.