Polyelectrolyte-coated nanoparticles or microparticles interact with bioactive molecules (peptides, proteins or nucleic acids) and have been proposed as delivery systems for these molecules. However, the mechanism of adsorption of polyelectrolyte onto particles remains unsolved. In this study, cationic poly(lactide-co-glycolide) (PLGA) nanoparticles were fabricated by adsorption of various concentrations of a biodegradable polysaccharide, chitosan (0-2.4g/L), using oil-in-water emulsion and solvent evaporation techniques. The particle diameter, zeta-potential, and chitosan adsorption of chitosan-coated PLGA nanoparticles confirmed the increase of polyelectrolyte adsorption. Five adsorption isotherm models (Langmuir, Freundlich, Halsey, Henderson, and Smith) were applied to the experimental data in order to better understand the mechanism of adsorption. Both particle diameter and chitosan adsorption increased with chitosan concentration during adsorption. A good correlation was obtained between PLGA-chitosan nanoparticle size and adsorbed chitosan on the surface, suggesting that the increased particle size was primarily due to the increased chitosan adsorption. The zeta-potential of chitosan-coated PLGA nanoparticles was positive and increased with chitosan adsorbed until a maximum value (+55mV) was reached at approximately 0.4-0.6g/L; PLGA nanoparticles had a negative zeta-potential (-20mV) prior to chitosan adsorption. Chitosan adsorption on PLGA nanoparticles followed a multilayer adsorption behavior, although the Langmuir monolayer equation held at low concentrations of chitosan. The underlying reasons for adsorption of chitosan on PLGA nanoparticles were thought to be the cationic nature of chitosan, high surface energy and microporous non-uniform surface of PLGA nanoparticles.