Bone defect treatments can be augmented by mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) based therapies. MSC interaction with the extracellular matrix (ECM) of the surrounding tissue regulates their functional behavior. Understanding of these specific regulatory mechanisms is essential for the therapeutic stimulation of MSC in vivo. However, these interactions are presently only partially understood. This study examined in parallel, for the first time, the effects on the functional behavior of MSCs of 13 ECM components from bone, cartilage and hematoma compared to a control protein, and hence draws conclusions for rational biomaterial design. ECM components specifically modulated MSC adhesion, migration, proliferation, and osteogenic differentiation, for example, fibronectin facilitated migration, adhesion, and proliferation, but not osteogenic differentiation, whereas fibrinogen enhanced adhesion and proliferation, but not migration. Subsequently, the integrin expression pattern of MSCs was determined and related to the cell behavior on specific ECM components. Finally, on this basis, peptide sequences are reported for the potential stimulation of MSC functions. Based on the results of this study, ECM component coatings could be designed to specifically guide cell functions. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part A, 2010.