The cells of the subodontoblastic cell-rich layer in dental pulp are speculated to contain odontoblast progenitor cells because of their positional relationship with odontoblasts as well as their high alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity. However, it has yet to be determined whether these cells have the ability to differentiate into odontoblastic cells. In the present study, we firstly found that the majority of cells in the subodontoblastic layer expressed Thy-1, a cell-surface marker of stem and progenitor cells. Then, we evaluated the capacity of Thy-1 high- and low-expressing (Thy-1(high) and Thy-1(low)) cells separated from rat dental pulp cells by use of a fluorescence-activated cell sorter to differentiate into hard tissue-forming cells in vitro and in vivo. Following stimulation with bone morphogenetic protein-2, Thy-1(high) cells in vitro showed accelerated induction of ALP activity and formation of alizarin red-positive mineralized matrix compared with Thy-1(low) cells. Furthermore, subcutaneous implantation of Thy-1(high) cells efficiently induced the formation of bone-like matrix. These results collectively suggest that Thy-1-positive dental pulp cells localized in the subodontoblastic layer had the ability to differentiate into hard tissue-forming cells, and thus these cells may serve as a source of odontoblastic cells.