A cell type is a classification used to identify cells that share morphological or phenotypical features. A multicellular organism may contain cells of a number of widely differing and specialized cell types, such as muscle cells and skin cells, that differ both in appearance and function yet have identical genomic sequences. Cells may have the same genotype, but belong to different cell types due to the differential regulation of the genes they contain. Classification of a specific cell type is often done through the use of microscopy (such as those from the cluster of differentiation family that are commonly used for this purpose in immunology). Recent developments in single cell RNA sequencing facilitated classification of cell types based on shared gene expression patterns. This has led to the discovery of many new cell types in e.g. mouse cortex, hippocampus, dorsal root ganglion and spinal cord.
Animals have evolved a greater diversity of cell types in a multicellular body (100–150 different cell types), compared with 10–20 in plants, fungi, and protists. The exact number of cell types is, however, undefined, and the Cell Ontology, as of 2021, lists over 2,300 different cell types.
All higher multicellular organisms contain cells specialised for different functions. Most distinct cell types arise from a single totipotent cell that differentiates into hundreds of different cell types during the course of development. Differentiation of cells is driven by different environmental cues (such as cell–cell interaction) and intrinsic differences (such as those caused by the uneven distribution of molecules during division). Multicellular organisms are composed of cells that fall into two fundamental types: germ cells and somatic cells. During development, somatic cells will become more specialized and form the three primary germ layers: ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm. After formation of the three germ layers, cells will continue to specialize until they reach a terminally differentiated state that is much more resistant to changes in cell type than its progenitors.
Even though the concept of cell type is widely used, specialists still discuss the exact definition of what constitutes a cell type.
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- Media related to Cell types at Wikimedia Commons