Mesenchymal stem cells proliferate extensively in cultures of unselected, total cell isolates from multiple fetal and adult organs. Perivascular cells, principally pericytes surrounding capillaries and microvessels, but also adventitial cells located around larger arteries and veins, have been recently identified as possible originators of mesenchymal stem cells, first by phenotypic analogies and eventually following stringent cell sorting. While it is clear that purified perivascular cells exhibit multiple mesodermal developmental potentials and become indistinguishable from conventionally derived mesenchymal stem cells after in vitro culture, the possible roles played by these blood vessel-bound cells in organogenesis and adult tissue repair remain elusive. Unsolved questions regarding the identity of mesenchymal stem cells have not compromised the consideration of these cells as outstanding candidates for cell therapies. Better knowledge of the lineage affiliation, tissue distribution and molecular identity of mesenchymal stem cells will contribute to the development of more efficient, safer therapeutic cells.