Adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be isolated from bone marrow or marrow aspirates and because they are culture-dish adherent, they can be expanded in culture while maintaining their multipotency. The MSCs have been used in preclinical models for tissue engineering of bone, cartilage, muscle, marrow stroma, tendon, fat, and other connective tissues. These tissue-engineered materials show considerable promise for use in rebuilding damaged or diseased mesenchymal tissues. Unanticipated is the realization that the MSCs secrete a large spectrum of bioactive molecules. These molecules are immunosuppressive, especially for T-cells and, thus, allogeneic MSCs can be considered for therapeutic use. In this context, the secreted bioactive molecules provide a regenerative microenvironment for a variety of injured adult tissues to limit the area of damage and to mount a self-regulated regenerative response. This regenerative microenvironment is referred to as trophic activity and, therefore, MSCs appear to be valuable mediators for tissue repair and regeneration. The natural titers of MSCs that are drawn to sites of tissue injury can be augmented by allogeneic MSCs delivered via the bloodstream. Indeed, human clinical trials are now under way to use allogeneic MSCs for treatment of myocardial infarcts, graft-versus-host disease, Crohn's Disease, cartilage and meniscus repair, stroke, and spinal cord injury. This review summarizes the biological basis for the in vivo functioning of MSCs through development and aging.