Background: Polyethylenimines (PEIs) with high molecular weights are effective nonviral gene delivery vectors. However, the in vivo use of these PEIs can be hampered by their cellular toxicity. In the present study we developed and tested a new PEI polymer synthesized by linking less toxic, low molecular weight (MW) PEIs with a commonly used, biocompatible drug carrier, β-cyclodextrin (CyD). Methods and results: The terminal CyD hydroxyl groups were activated by 1,1′-carbonyldiimidazole. Each activated CyD then linked two branched PEI molecules with MW of 600 Da to form a CyD-containing polymer with MW of 61 kDa, in which CyD served as a part of the backbone. The PEI-CyD polymer developed was soluble in water and biodegradable. In cell viability assays with sensitive neurons, the polymer performed similarly to low-MW PEIs and displayed much lower cellular cytotoxicity compared to PEI 25 kDa. The gene delivery efficiency of the polymer was comparable to, and at higher polymer/DNA ratios even higher than, that offered by PEI 25 kDa in neural cells. Attractively, intrathecal injection of plasmid DNA complexed by the polymer into the rat spinal cord provided levels of gene expression close to that offered by PEI 25 kDa. Conclusions: The polymer reported in the current study displayed i mproved biocompatibility over non-degradable PEI 25 kDa and mediated gene transfection in cultured neurons and in the central nervous system effectively. The new polymer would be worth exploring further as an in vivo delivery system of therapeutic genetic materials for gene therapy of neurological disorders.