Although neural progenitor cells (NPCs) may provide a source of new neurons to alleviate neural trauma, little is known about their electrical properties as they differentiate. We have previously shown that single NPCs from the adult rat hippocampus can be cloned in the presence of heparan sulphate chains purified from the hippocampus, and that these cells can be pushed into a proliferative phenotype with the mitogen FGF2 [Chipperfield, H., Bedi, K.S., Cool, S.M. & Nurcombe, V. (2002) Int. J. Dev. Biol., 46, 661–670]. In this study, the active and passive electrical properties of both undifferentiated and differentiated adult hippocampal NPCs, from 0 to 12 days in vitro as single-cell preparations, were investigated. Sparsely plated, undifferentiated NPCs had a resting membrane potential of ≈ −90 mV and were electrically inexcitable. In > 70%, ATP and benzoylbenzoyl-ATP evoked an inward current and membrane depolarization, whereas acetylcholine, noradrenaline, glutamate and GABA had no detectable effect. In Fura-2-loaded undifferentiated NPCs, ATP and benzoylbenzoyl-ATP evoked a transient increase in the intracellular free Ca2+ concentration, which was dependent on extracellular Ca2+ and was inhibited reversibly by pyridoxalphosphate-6-azophenyl-2′-4′-disulphonic acid (PPADS), a P2 receptor antagonist. After differentiation, NPC-derived neurons became electrically excitable, expressing voltage-dependent TTX-sensitive Na+ channels, low- and high-voltage-activated Ca2+ channels and delayed-rectifier K+ channels. Differentiated cells also possessed functional glutamate, GABA, glycine and purinergic (P2X) receptors. Appearance of voltage-dependent and ligand-gated ion channels appears to be an important early step in the differentiation of NPCs.