To improve transfection efficiency, we prepared N-maleyl chitosan-graft-polyamidoamine (NMCTS-graft- PAMAM) copolymer. Self-assembled NMCTS-graft-PAMAM/pDNA complexes were prepared by complex coacervation method at different N/P (nitrogen to phosphate ratio) ratios. The copolymer effectively formed complexes with pDNA at lower N/P ratio (N/P ratio 1.0) than that of unmodified chitosan (N/P ratio 2.0) and the complexes were spherical with particle size of 100-150 nm. The copolymer showed significant protection of DNA from nuclease attack with lower toxicity against HeLa cell. The copolymer also showed no noticeable hemolytic effects up to 10 mg/mL indicating no detectable disturbance of the red blood cell membranes. The transfection efficiency of the copolymer was increased significantly compared to that of chitosan and reached up to 36 ± 2% at N/P ratio 7.0 which was higher than that of PEI (30 ± 3% at N/P ratio 10). Therefore, the copolymer may be a strong alternative candidate as effective nonviral vector. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.