Recently, small interfering RNA (siRNA) has received much attention for therapeutic applications; however, low transfection efficiency and intrinsic instability limit effective gene silencing. Here we show a new approach based on the incorporation of siRNA/polyelectrolyte complexes into biodegradable poly(D, L-lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) nanoparticles to stabilize siRNA within a hydrophobic solid matrix for prolonged gene silencing. To solubilize siRNA in organic media, chitosan oligosaccharides grafted with deoxycholic acids are synthesized and complexed with siRNA, generating a self-assembled polyelectrolyte complex of 123.9 +/- 56.8 nm in diameter. The complex is mixed with PLGA solution and emulsified in water to prepare siRNA-loaded PLGA nanoparticles having a diameter of about 230 nm. The excellent structural stability of the prepared nanoparticles leads to efficient cellular uptake followed by effective gene silencing even in the presence of serum proteins. These results suggest that the encapsulation of siRNA into biodegradable polymer matrix can be an effective means of improving the structural stability of siRNA for prolonged therapeutic efficacy. (C) 2012 Elsevier B. V. All rights reserved.