Seed cells, biomaterials and growth factors are three important aspects in tissue engineering. Biomaterials mimic extra cellular matrix in vivo, providing a sound environment for cells to grow and attach, so as to maintain cell viability and function. The physicochemical properties and modification molecules of material surface mediate cell behaviors like cell adhesion, proliferation, migration and differentiation, which in turn affect cellular function and tissue regeneration efficacy. Furthermore, the modification molecules of material surface are the direct contact point for cell adhesion and growth. Therefore, the interactions between cells and surface modification molecules are the key to tissue engineering. This review summarizes the effects of surface modification molecules on cell phenotypes and functions.