Chitosan (CTS) is biocompatible, biodegradable, and can be formed into 3D porous structures for bone tissue engineering applications. Although studies have reported on the effects of molecular weight (MW) on CTS physicochemical properties, studies evaluating CTS biological property relationships often do not account for MW that confounds interpretation of study results. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of MW on CTS physicochemical and biological properties. CTS materials were treated for 6, 18, and 30 min by microwave irradiation to decrease MW without affecting deacetylation (DDA). Materials were evaluated for crystallinity using X-ray diffraction, thermal degradation using differential scanning calorimetry, water content, swelling ratio, and in vitro compatibility using Saos-2. Results showed that microwave treatments did not affect DDA but decreased MW and swelling ratio by 45.78% and 36.75%, respectively, after 30 min of microwave treatment. Microwave-treated CTS showed reduced or no crystalline peaks. Initial increase in exothermic peak temperatures with short (6 min) microwave treatment times were followed by a decrease with longer (18 and 30 min) treatment times. Cell growth over 7 days on samples was proportional to MW with the number of cells being 62% higher on CTS with the highest MW (3.71 ± 0.25 × 105 g/mol) when compared with the lower MW CTS (2.38 ± 0.12 × 105 g/mol). These results demonstrate the importance of MW of CTS to both its physicochemical characteristics and biological properties, providing researchers with another tool for the modulation and optimization of CTS for different biomedical applications. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part A:, 2011.