In this work we have synthesized a new series of cationic carbon nanotubes (CNTs) for siRNA binding. Both single- and multi-walled CNTs have been modified by addition or amidation reaction with short linear polyamine chains including putrescine, spermidine and spermine. All the new conjugates have been characterized with several spectroscopic and microscopic techniques. Their cytotoxic effects have been assessed on human lung carcinoma cell line. Finally, we have analyzed their capacity to bind siRNA towards the development of new carriers for gene silencing applications. The dispersibility properties and the capacity to complex siRNA of the different conjugates were found to be strongly dependent on the position of the functional groups on CNTs (i.e. mainly at the tips following the amidation reaction or on the sidewalls by direct C-C addition). © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2011.