Neural stem cells (NSCs) are characterized by the ability of self‑renewal and capacity to proliferate and produce new nervous tissue. NSCs are capable of differentiating to three lineages of neural cells, including neurons, oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Furthermore, hippocampal NSCs transplantation can improve the neurological deficits associated with expression of cytokines. Therefore, to compare the properties of NSCs of tree shrews and rats in vitro, NSCs from tree shrews (tsNSCs) and rats f(rNSCs) were isolated. Nestin was used as a marker to identify the cultured NSCs. Neuronal nuclei protein and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) were utilized to demonstrate the differentiation of NSCs towards neurons and astrocytes, respectively, in vitro. Furthermore, the expression of neurotrophin 3 (NT3), brain‑derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), glial cell‑derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and transforming growth factor (TGF)β1 was also investigated in tsNSCs and rNSCs. The expression of all of the aforementioned proteins was detected using immunofluorescence methods. The results demonstrated that, after 5 days of culture, the average number of neurospheres in the cultured tsNSCs was significantly lower compared with rNSCs (P=0.0031). Additionally, compared with the rNSCs, tsNSCs exhibited an enhanced differentiation ability towards neurons. Furthermore, the expression of NT3 in the tsNSCs was higher compared with rNSCs (P<0.01), while the expression of BDNF was lower (P=0.045). However, no significant differences were observed in the expression level of GDNF and TGFβ1 between rNSCs and tsNSCs. Therefore, these results indicate that tsNSCs exhibit specific characteristics that are different from rNSCs, which provides novel information for the understanding of NSCs obtained from tree shrews. Overall, the results of the current study provide evidence to support the increased application of tree shrews as models for diseases of the central nervous system.