The main objective of this study was to prepare two types of nanoparticles with poly(D,L-lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA) and polyethylenimine (PEI) polymers. Plasmid DNA (pDNA) was adsorbed either on PLGA/PEI nanoparticles, or as PEI/DNA complex onto the surface of PLGA nanoparticles. Both types of nanoparticles were prepared by the double emulsion method. The nanoparticles were characterized by their size, zeta potential and pDNA or PEI/DNA complex adsorption. The PEI/DNA complex adsorption was confirmed with ethidium bromide assay. pDNA adsorption onto PLGA/PEI nanoparticles (PLGA/PEI-DNA) was studied by electrophoresis on agarose gel. Cytotoxicity and transfection efficiency of both types of nanoparticle and PEI/DNA complexes formulations were studied in head and neck squamous carcinoma cell line (FaDu). To improve endosomal release, photochemical internalization (PCI) was used. The zeta potential increased when the PEI/DNA complex adsorbed onto PLGA nanoparticles (PLGA-PEI/DNA). Optimal pDNA adsorption efficiency was achieved for nitrogen/phosphorous ratio >= 20/1. In vitro transfection and cells viability on FaDu cells with or without PCI were found to be variable depending on the type and concentration of nanoparticles. The results showed that transfection efficiency for PLGA/PEI-DNA or PLGA-PEI/DNA nanoparticles ranged between 2 and 80%, respectively. PCI was found to slightly improve the transfection efficiency for all formulations. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.