The capacity to generate myriad differentiated cell types, including neurons, from human embryonic stem (hES) cell lines offers great potential for developing cell-based therapies and also for increasing our understanding of human developmental mechanisms. In addition, the emerging development of this technology as an experimental tool represents a potential opportunity for neuroscientists interested in mechanisms of neuroprotection and neurodegeneration. Potentially unlimited generation of well-defined functional neurons from hES and patient-specific induced pluripotent cells offers new systems to study disease mechanisms, signalling pathways and receptor pharmacology within a human cellular environment. Such systems may help in overcoming interspecies differences. Far from replacing rodent in vivo and primary culture systems, hES and induced disease-specific pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons offer a complementary resource to overcome issues of interspecies differences, accelerate drug discovery, study of disease mechanism and provide basic insight into human neuronal physiology.