The adult bone marrow has been generally considered to be composed of hematopoietic tissue and the associated supporting stroma. Within the latter compartment, a subset of cells with multipotent differentiation capacity exists, usually referred to as mesenchymal stem cells. Mesenchymal stem cells can easily be expanded ex vivo and induced to differentiate into several cell types, including osteoblasts, adipocytes and chondrocytes. Up to now, mesenchymal stem cells have gained wide popularity. Despite the rapid growth in this field, irritations remain with respect to the defining characteristics of these cells, including their differentiation potency, self-renewal and in vivo properties. As a consequence, there is a growing tendency to challenge the term mesenchymal stem cell, especially with respect to the stem cell characteristics. Here, we revisit the experimental origins of mesenchymal stem cells, their classical differentiation capacity into mesodermal lineages and their immunophenotype in order to assess their stemness and function. Based on these essentials, it has to be revisited if the designation as a stem cell remains an appropriate term.

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