Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are stromal cells that display self-renewal and multipotent differentiation capacity. The repertoire of mature cells generated ranges but is not restricted to: fat, bone and cartilage. Their potential importance for both cell therapy and maintenance of in vivo homeostasis is indisputable. Nonetheless, both their in vivo identity and use in cell therapy remain elusive. A drawback generated by this fact is that little is known about the MSC niche and how it impacts differentiation and homeostasis maintenance. Hence, the roles played by the extracellular matrix (ECM) and its main regulators namely: the Matrix Metalloproteinases (MMPs) and their counteracting inhibitors (TIMPs and RECK) upon stem cells differentiation are only now beginning to be unveiled. Here, we will focus on mesenchymal stem cells and review the main mechanisms involved in adipo, chondro and osteogenesis, discussing how the extracellular matrix can impact not only lineage commitment, but, also, their survival and potentiality. This review critically analyzes recent work in the field in an effort towards a better understanding of the roles of Matrix Metalloproteinases and their inhibitors in the above-cited events.
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