Fate Decision of Mesenchymal Stem Cells: Adipocytes or Osteoblasts?

Cell Death Differ. 2016 Jul;23(7):1128-39. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2015.168. Epub 2016 Feb 12.


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a non-hematopoietic stem cell population first discovered in bone marrow, are multipotent cells capable of differentiating into mature cells of several mesenchymal tissues, such as fat and bone. As common progenitor cells of adipocytes and osteoblasts, MSCs are delicately balanced for their differentiation commitment. Numerous in vitro investigations have demonstrated that fat-induction factors inhibit osteogenesis, and, conversely, bone-induction factors hinder adipogenesis. In fact, a variety of external cues contribute to the delicate balance of adipo-osteogenic differentiation of MSCs, including chemical, physical, and biological factors. These factors trigger different signaling pathways and activate various transcription factors that guide MSCs to commit to either lineage. The dysregulation of the adipo-osteogenic balance has been linked to several pathophysiologic processes, such as aging, obesity, osteopenia, osteopetrosis, and osteoporosis. Thus, the regulation of MSC differentiation has increasingly attracted great attention in recent years. Here, we review external factors and their signaling processes dictating the reciprocal regulation between adipocytes and osteoblasts during MSC differentiation and the ultimate control of the adipo-osteogenic balance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / cytology*
  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Osteoblasts / cytology*
  • Osteoblasts / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • MicroRNAs
  • Dexamethasone