In this study human bone marrow stromal cells (hBMSCs) were cultured on three-dimensional porous scaffolds of biomimetically mineralized collagen type I developed for bone engineering. Three different cell numbers were used for seeding of the nanocomposites, and the impact of the seeding density on proliferation and osteogenic differentiation of hBMSCs was investigated. In addition, the effect of the seeding cell number on seeding efficiency and distribution of the cells within the scaffolds was studied. Our data revealed that the open and interconnecting porosity of the mineralized collagen scaffolds allows a very efficient seeding for all seeding densities tested. Although penetration of the cells into the interior of the scaffolds was demonstrated for all seeding densities, the application of higher cell numbers resulted in a better colonization also of the deeper scaffold regions. A substantial influence of the seeding density was observed on proliferation and osteogenic differentiation of hBMSCs. Thus, the highest proliferation rate and specific alkaline phosphatase activity was found for the cell matrix constructs seeded with the lowest density. RT–PCR analyses revealed a higher expression of alkaline phosphatase and bone sialoprotein II at lower seeding densities; however, expression of osteopontin was unaffected by the seeding cell number. Our results demonstrated that the seeding density might be an important factor for the development of optimal cell matrix constructs for bone tissue engineering. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.