Background: Adipose tissue contains a stromal vascular fraction that can be easily isolated and provides a rich source of adipose tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ASC). These ASC are a potential source of cells for tissue engineering. We studied whether the yield and growth characteristics of ASC were affected by the type of surgical procedure used for adipose tissue harvesting, i.e. resection, tumescent liposuction and ultrasound-assisted liposuction. Methods: Frequencies of ASC in the stromal vascular fraction were assessed in limiting dilution assays. The phenotypical marker profile of ASC was determined, using flow cytometry, and growth kinetics were investigated in culture. ASC were cultured under chondrogenic and osteogenic conditions to confirm their differentiation potential. Results: The number of viable cells in the stromal vascular fraction was affected by neither the type of surgical procedure nor the anatomical site of the body from where the adipose tissue was harvested. After all three surgical procedures, cultured ASC did express a CD34+ CD31- CD105+ CD166+ CD45- CD90+ ASC phenotype. However, ultrasound-assisted liposuction resulted in a lower frequency of proliferating ASC, as well as a longer population doubling time of ASC, compared with resection. ASC demonstrated chondrogenic and osteogenic differentiation potential. Discussion: We conclude that yield and growth characteristics of ASC are affected by the type of surgical procedure used for adipose tissue harvesting. Resection and tumescent liposuction seem to be preferable above ultrasound-assisted liposuction for tissue-engineering purposes.