Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are partially defined by their ability to differentiate into tissues including bone, cartilage and adipose in vitro, but it is their trophic, paracrine and immunomodulatory functions that may have the greatest therapeutic impact in vivo. Unlike pharmaceutical treatments that deliver a single agent at a specific dose, MSCs are site regulated and secrete bioactive factors and signals at variable concentrations in response to local microenvironmental cues. Significant progress has been made in understanding the biochemical and metabolic mechanisms and feedback associated with MSC response. The anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory capacity of MSC may be paramount in the restoration of localized or systemic conditions for normal healing and tissue regeneration. Allogeneic MSC treatments, categorized as a drug by regulatory agencies, have been widely pursued, but new studies demonstrate the efficacy of autologous MSC therapies, even for individuals affected by a disease state. Safety and regulatory concerns surrounding allogeneic cell preparations make autologous and minimally manipulated cell therapies an attractive option for many regenerative, anti-inflammatory and autoimmune applications.