Craniofacial skeletal tissues are composed of tooth and bone, together with nerves and blood vessels. This composite material is mainly derived from neural crest cells (NCCs). The neural crest is transient embryonic tissue present during neural tube formation whose cells have high potential for migration and differentiation. Thus, NCCs are promising candidates for craniofacial tissue regeneration; however, the clinical application of NCCs is hindered by their limited accessibility. In contrast, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are easily accessible in adults, have similar potential for self-renewal, and can differentiate into skeletal tissues, including bones and cartilage. Therefore, MSCs may represent good sources of stem cells for clinical use. MSCs are classically identified under adherent culture conditions, leading to contamination with other cell lineages. Previous studies have identified mouse- and human-specific MSC subsets using cell surface markers. Additionally, some studies have shown that a subset of MSCs is closely related to neural crest derivatives and endothelial cells. These MSCs may be promising candidates for regeneration of craniofacial tissues from the perspective of developmental fate. Here, we review the fundamental biology of MSCs in craniofacial research.
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