Stem cell function is regulated by intrinsic as well as microenvironmental factors, including chemical and mechanical signals. Conducting polymer-based cell culture substrates provide a powerful tool to control both chemical and physical stimuli sensed by stem cells. Here we show that polypyrrole (PPy), a commonly used conducting polymer, can be tailored to modulate survival and maintenance of rat fetal neural stem cells (NSCs). NSCs cultured on PPy substrates containing different counter ions, dodecylbenzenesulfonate (DBS), tosylate (TsO), perchlorate (ClO(4)) and chloride (Cl), showed a distinct correlation between PPy counter ion and cell viability. Specifically, NSC viability was high on PPy(DBS) but low on PPy containing TsO, ClO(4) and Cl. On PPy(DBS), NSC proliferation and differentiation was comparable to standard NSC culture on tissue culture polystyrene. Electrical reduction of PPy(DBS) created a switch for neural stem cell viability, with widespread cell death upon polymer reduction. Coating the PPy(DBS) films with a gel layer composed of a basement membrane matrix efficiently prevented loss of cell viability upon polymer reduction. Here we have defined conditions for the biocompatibility of PPy substrates with NSC culture, critical for the development of devices based on conducting polymers interfacing with NSCs.