Adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) have been increasingly used as a versatile source of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for diverse clinical investigations. However, their applications often become complicated due to heterogeneity arising from various factors. Cellular heterogeneity can occur due to: (i) nomenclature and criteria for definition; (ii) adipose tissue depots (e.g., subcutaneous fat, visceral fat) from which ASCs are isolated; (iii) donor and inter-subject variation (age, body mass index, gender, and disease state); (iv) species difference; and (v) study design (in vivo versus in vitro) and tools used (e.g., antibody isolation and culture conditions). There are also actual differences in resident cell types that exhibit ASC/MSC characteristics. Multilineage-differentiating stress-enduring (Muse) cells and dedifferentiated fat (DFAT) cells have been reported as an alternative or derivative source of ASCs for application in regenerative medicine. In this review, we discuss these factors that contribute to the heterogeneity of human ASCs in detail, and what should be taken into consideration for overcoming challenges associated with such heterogeneity in the clinical use of ASCs. Attempts to understand, define, and standardize cellular heterogeneity are important in supporting therapeutic strategies and regulatory considerations for the use of ASCs.
Keywords: ISCT and IFATS abbreviations; adipocyte progenitor cell; adipose-derived mesenchymal stem/stromal cell (ASC, ADSC, AD-MSC); beige adipose tissue; brown adipose tissue; cell surface markers; cell therapy; fat; stromal vascular fraction (SVF); white adipose tissue (WAT).