Surface modification of tissue engineering scaffolds and substrates is required for improving the efficacy of stem cell therapy by generating physicochemical stimulation promoting proliferation and differentiation of stem cells. However, typical surface modification methods including chemical conjugation or physical absorption have several limitations such as multistep, complicated procedures, surface denaturation, batch-to-batch inconsistencies, and low surface conjugation efficiency. In this study, we report a mussel-inspired, biomimetic approach to surface modification for efficient and reliable manipulation of human neural stem cell (NSC) differentiation and proliferation. Our study demonstrates that polydopamine coating facilitates highly efficient, simple immobilization of neurotrophic growth factors and adhesion peptides onto polymer substrates. The growth factor or peptide-immobilized substrates greatly enhance differentiation and proliferation of human NSCs (human fetal brain-derived NSCs and human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived NSCs) at a level comparable or greater than currently available animal-derived coating materials (Matrigel) with safety issues. Therefore, polydopamine-mediated surface modification can provide a versatile platform technology for developing chemically defined, safe, functional substrates and scaffolds for therapeutic applications of human NSCs. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.