Adult stem cells hold many promises for future clinical applications and regenerative medicine. The haematopoietic stem cell (HSC) is the best-characterized somatic stem cell so far, but in vitro expansion has been unsuccessful, limiting the future therapeutic potential of these cells. Here we review recent progress in characterizing the composition of the HSC bone-marrow microenvironment, known as the HSC niche. During homeostasis, HSCs, and therefore putative bone-marrow HSC niches, are located near bone surfaces or are associated with the sinusoidal endothelium. The molecular crosstalk between HSCs and the cellular constituents of these niches is thought to control the balance between HSC self-renewal and differentiation, indicating that future successful expansion of HSCs for therapeutic use will require three-dimensional reconstruction of a stem-cell-niche unit.