Background aims. Adipose tissue-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) have a higher capacity for proliferation and differentiation compared with other cell lineages. Although distraction osteogenesis is the most important therapy for treating bone defects, this treatment is restricted in many situations. The aim of this study was to examine the therapeutic potential of adipose tissue-derived MSCs and osteoblasts differentiated from adipose tissue-derived MSCs in the treatment of bone defects. Methods. Bone defects were produced in the tibias of New Zealand rabbits that had previously undergone adipose tissue extraction. Tibial osteotomy was performed, and a distractor was placed on the right leg of the rabbits. The rabbits were placed in control (group I), stem cell (group II) and osteoblast-differentiated stem cell (group III) treatment groups. The rabbits were sacrificed, and the defect area was evaluated by radiologic, biomechanical and histopathologic tests to examine the therapeutic effects of adipose tissue-derived MSCs. Results. Radiologic analyses revealed that callus density and the ossification rate increased in group III compared with group I and group II. In biomechanical tests, the highest ossification rate was observed in group III. Histopathologic studies showed that the quality of newly formed bone and the number of cells active in bone formation were significantly higher in group III rabbits compared with group I and group II rabbits. Conclusions. These data reveal that osteoblasts differentiated from adipose tissue-derived MSCs shorten the consolidation period of distraction osteogenesis. Stem cells could be used as an effective treatment for bone defects.