A water-insoluble (1-->3)-beta-D-glucan isolated from fresh sclerotium of Poria cocos was, respectively, sulfated, carboxymethylated, methylated, hydroxyethylated, and hydroxypropylated, to afford five water-soluble derivatives. Their weight-average molecular masses (Mw) and intrinsic viscosities ([eta]) were determined by size-exclusion chromatography combined with laser light scattering (SEC-LLS), LLS, and viscometry in phosphate buffer solution (PBS) at 37 degrees C. The antitumor activities, against Sarcoma 180 tumor cell (S-180) and gastric carcinoma cell strain (MKN-45 and SGC-7901) of the native beta-glucan and the five derivatives, were tested in vitro and in vivo. The Mw values of the five derivatives in PBS were determined to be 3.8 x 10(4), 18.9 x 10(4), 16.0 x 10(4), 76.8 x 10(4), and 224.3 x 10(4), respectively. The high Mw values of the hydroxyethylated and hydroxypropylated derivatives in aqueous solution resulted from aggregation, and their true Mw values obtained in dimethyl sulfoxide were 20.1 x 10(4) and 19.1 x 10(4). The sulfated and carboxymethylated derivatives having DS of 1.0-1.3 show good water solubility, and exist as relatively expanded chains in aqueous solution. Interestingly, the native beta-glucan did not show antitumor activity, whereas the sulfated and carboxymethylated derivatives exhibit significant antitumor activities against S-180 and gastric carcinoma tumor cells. This work showed that good water solubility, relatively high chain stiffness, and moderate molecular mass of the derivatives in aqueous solution contribute beneficial to enhancement of antitumor activity.