In unicellular organisms, cell division is the means of reproduction; in multicellular organisms, it is the means of tissue growth and maintenance. Survival of the eukaryotes depends upon interactions between many cell types, and it is essential that a balanced distribution of types be maintained. This is achieved by the highly regulated process of cell proliferation. The growth and division of different cell populations are regulated in different ways, but the basic mechanisms are similar throughout multicellular organisms.
Most tissues of the body grow by increasing their cell number, but this growth is highly regulated to maintain a balance between different tissues. In adults most cell division is involved in tissue renewal rather than growth, many types of cells undergoing continuous replacement. Skin cells, for example, are constantly being sloughed off and replaced; in this case, the mature differentiated cells do not divide, but their population is renewed by division of immature stem cells. In certain other cells, such as those of the liver, mature cells remain capable of division to allow growth or regeneration after injury.
In contrast to these patterns, other types of cells either cannot divide or are prevented from dividing by certain molecules produced by nearby cells. As a result, in the adult organism, some tissues have a greatly reduced capacity to renew damaged or diseased cells. Examples of such tissues include heart muscle, nerve cells of the central nervous system, and lens cells in mammals. Maintenance and repair of these cells is limited to replacing intracellular components rather than replacing entire cells.