Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are increasingly being reported as occurring in a variety of tissues. Although MSCs from human bone marrow are relatively easy to harvest, the isolation of rodent MSCs is more difficult, thereby limiting the number of experiments in vivo. To determine a suitable cell source, we isolated rat MSCs from bone marrow, synovium, periosteum, adipose, and muscle and compared their properties for yield, expansion, and multipotentiality. After two passages, the cells in each population were CD11b (-), CD45 (-), and CD90 (+). The colony number per nucleated cells derived from synovium was 100-fold higher than that for cells derived from bone marrow. With regard to expansion potential, synovium-derived cells were the highest in colony-forming efficiency, fold increase, and growth kinetics. An in vitro chondrogenesis assay demonstrated that the pellets derived from synovium were heavier, because of their greater production of cartilage matrix, than those from other tissues, indicating their superiority in chondrogenesis. Synovium-derived cells retained their chondrogenic potential after a few passages. The Oil Red-O positive colony-rate assay demonstrated higher adipogenic potential in synovium- and adipose-derived cells. Alkaline phosphatase activity was greater in periosteum- and muscle-derived cells during calcification. The yield and proliferation potential of rat MSCs from solid tissues was much better than those from bone marrow. In particular, synovium-derived cells had the greatest potential for both proliferation and chondrogenesis, indicating their usefulness for cartilage study in a rat model.