Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are pluripotent cells in the bone marrow that have the capacity to differentiate along a number of connective tissue lineages, including cartilage, bone, adipose tissue, and stroma. The SH-3 and SH-4 monoclonal antibodies recognize epitopes present on the surface of human MSCs. This study describes the isolation and characterization of the antigen that is recognized by these antibodies. A protein of molecular weight approximately 67 kDa was immunoprecipitated from a solubilized membrane preparation of human MSCs using the SH-3 antibody. Analysis of peptides derived from this protein by mass spectrometry and sequencing identified it as CD73 (ecto-5'-nucleotidase). The SH-4 antibody was also shown to react with purified bovine CD73 by immunoblotting, but the SH-3 antibody failed to react with the bovine protein. These results indicate that both SH-3 and SH-4 epitopes are present on CD73, but they are distinct. CD73, present in lymphoid tissue, plays a role in the activation of B-lymphocytes and in signal transduction in the hematopoietic compartment of bone marrow. The role that CD73 may play in bone marrow stromal interactions and in the differentiation of MSCs is discussed. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science.