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Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which were first isolated from the bone marrow, are now being extracted from various other tissues in the body, including the adipose tissue. The current study presents systematic evidence of how the adipose tissue-derived stem cells (ASCs) and bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (Bm-MSCs) behave when cultured in specific pro-adipogenic microenvironments. The cells were first characterized and identified as MSCs in terms of their morphology, phenotypic expression, self-renewal capabilities and multi-lineage potential. Subsequently, the proliferation and gene expression profiles of the cell populations cultured on two-dimensional (2D) adipose tissue extracellular matrix (ECM)-coated tissue culture plastic (TCP) and in three-dimensional (3D) AlgiMatrix® microenvironments were analyzed. Overall, it was found that adipogenesis was triggered in both cell populations due to the presence of adipose tissue ECM. However, in 3D microenvironments, ASCs and Bm-MSCs were predisposed to the adipogenic and osteogenic lineages respectively. Overall, findings from this study will contribute to ongoing efforts in adipose tissue engineering as well as provide new insights into the role of the ECM and cues provided by the immediate microenvironment for stem cell differentiation.Native adipose tissue ECM coated on 2D TCP triggers adipogenesis in both ASCs and Bm-MSCs.A 3D microenvironment with similar stiffness to adipose tissue induces adipogenic differentiation of ASCs.ASCs cultured in 3D alginate scaffolds exhibit predisposition to adipogenesis.Bm-MSCs cultured in 3D alginate scaffolds exhibit predisposition to osteogenesis.The native microenvironment of the cells affects their differentiation behaviour in vitro.