Mucosal surfaces are the most common and convenient routes for delivering drugs to the body. However, macromolecular drugs such as peptides and proteins are unable to overcome the mucosal barriers and/or are degraded before reaching the blood stream. Among the approaches explored so far in order to optimize the transport of these macromolecules across mucosal barriers, the use of nanoparticulate carriers represents a challenging but promising strategy. The present paper aims to compare the characteristics and potential of nanostructures based on the mucoadhesive polysaccharide chitosan (CS). These are CS nanoparticles, CS-coated oil nanodroplets (nanocapsules) and CS-coated lipid nanoparticles. The characteristics and behavior of CS nanoparticles and CS-coated lipid nanoparticles already reported [A. Vila, A. Sanchez, M. Tobio, P. Calvo, M.J. Alonso, Design of biodegradable particles for protein delivery, J. Control. Rel. 78 (2002) 15-24; R. Fernandez-Urrusuno, P. Calvo, C. Remunan-Lopez, J.L. Vila-Jato, M.J. Alonso, Enhancement of nasal absorption of insulin using chitosan nanoparticles, Pharm. Res. 16 (1999) 1576-1581; M. Garcia-Fuentes, D. Torres, M.J. Alonso, New surface-modified lipid nanoparticles as delivery vehicles for salmon calcitonin (submitted for publication).] are compared with those of CS nanocapsules originally reported here. The three types of systems have a size in the nanometer range and a positive zeta potential that was attributed to the presence of CS on their surface. They showed an important capacity for the association of peptides such as insulin, salmon calcitonin and proteins, such as tetanus toxoid. Their mechanism of interaction with epithelia was investigated using the Caco-2 model cell line. The results showed that CS-coated systems caused a concentration-dependent reduction in the transepithelial resistance of the cell monolayer. Moreover, within the range of concentrations investigated, these systems were internalized in the monolayer in a concentration-dependent manner. This uptake was slightly enhanced by the presence of the CS coating but, as compared with previously published results [M. Garcia-Fuentes, C. Prego, D. Torres, M.J. Alonso, Triglyceride-chitosan nanostructures for oral calcitonin delivery: evaluation in the Caco-2 cell model and in vivo (submitted for publication)], highly dependent on the nature of the lipid core. Nevertheless, these differences in the uptake of the CS-coated systems (solid lipid core or oily core) by the Caco-2 cells did not have a consequence in the in vivo behaviour. Indeed, both CS-coated systems (nanocapsules and CS-coated nanoparticles) showed an important capacity to enhance the intestinal absorption of the model peptide, salmon calcitonin, as shown by the important and long-lasting decrease in the calcemia levels observed in rats.