Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have gained a great deal of attention for regenerative medicine because they can be obtained from easy accessible mesenchymal tissues, such as bone marrow, adipose tissue, and the umbilical cord, and have trophic and immunosuppressive effects to protect tissues. The most outstanding property of MSCs is their potential for differentiation into cells of all three germ layers. MSCs belong to the mesodermal lineage, but they are known to cross boundaries from mesodermal to ectodermal and endodermal lineages, and differentiate into a variety of cell types both in vitro and in vivo. Such behavior is exceptional for tissue stem cells. As observed with hematopoietic and neural stem cells, tissue stem cells usually generate cells that belong to the tissue in which they reside, and do not show triploblastic differentiation. However, the scientific basis for the broad multipotent differentiation of MSCs still remains an enigma. This review summarizes the properties of MSCs from representative mesenchymal tissues, including bone marrow, adipose tissue, and the umbilical cord, to demonstrate their similarities and differences. Finally, we introduce a novel type of pluripotent stem cell, multilineage-differentiating stress-enduring (Muse) cells, a small subpopulation of MSCs, which can explain the broad spectrum of differentiation ability in MSCs. Anat Rec, 297:98–110. 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.