Obesity is characterized by increases in the number of mature adipocytes. Nascent adipocytes arise from mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) by a multi-step process--MSCs are recruited to the adipocyte lineage forming determined preadipocytes, these committed progenitors proliferate, undergo growth arrest, and finally differentiate into mature adipocytes. Although the genetic mechanisms that control the differentiation of preadipocytes into mature adipocytes are understood to a large extent, the earliest events in adipogenesis--especially the commitment of MSCs into preadipocytes--are largely unknown. Recently, bone morphogenetic protein-4 (BMP-4) has been implicated in the commitment of pluripotent MSCs to the adipocyte lineage by two independent lines of investigation. First, growth-arrested 10T1/2 cells do not normally respond to a hormonal cocktail that causes various growth-arrested preadipocyte cell lines to differentiate into adipocytes, but if 10T1/2 cells are first treated with BMP-4 they will respond to these hormonal inducers by undergoing terminal adipocyte differentiation. Second, a preadipocyte cell line, A33 cells, derived from 10T1/2 cells after exposing the cells to the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-azacytidine was shown to express BMP-4, and this endogenous BMP-4 expression is required for acquisition of the preadipocyte phenotype of these cells. A role for the BMP-4 signaling pathway in adipogenesis is discussed.