Bone marrow stroma contains a unique cell population, referred to as marrow stromal cells (MSCs), capable of differentiating along multiple mesenchymal cell lineages. A standard liquid culture system has been developed to isolate MSCs from whole marrow by their adherence to plastic wherein the cells grow as clonal populations derived from a single precursor termed the colony-forming-unit fibroblast (CFU-F). Using this liquid culture system, we demonstrate that the relative abundance of MSCs in the bone marrow of five commonly used inbred strains of mice varies as much as 10-fold, and that the cells also exhibit markedly disparate levels of alkaline phosphatase expression, an early marker of osteoblast differentiation. For each strain examined, the method of isolating MSCs by plastic adherence yields a heterogeneous cell population. These plastic adherent cells also exhibit widely varying growth kinetics between the different strains. Importantly, of three inbred strains commonly used to prepare transgenic mice that we examined, only cells derived from FVB/N marrow readily expand in culture. Further analysis of cultures derived from FVB/N marrow showed that most plastic adherent cells express CD11b and CD45, epitopes of lymphohematopoietic cells. The later consists of both pre-B-cell progenitors, granulocytic and monocytic precursors, and macrophages. However, a subpopulation of the MSCs appear to represent bona fide mesenchymal progenitors, as cells can be induced to differentiate into osteoblasts and adipocytes after exposure to dexamethasone and into myoblasts after exposure to amphotericin B. Our results point to significant strain differences in the properties of MSCs and indicate that standard methods cannot be applied to murine bone marrow to isolate relatively pure populations of MSCs.