Gene therapy is a promising therapeutic approach for treating disease, but the efficient delivery of genes to desired locations with minimal side effects remains a challenge. In addition to gene therapy, it is also highly desirable to provide sensitive imaging information in patients for disease diagnosis, screening and post-therapy monitoring. Here, we report on the development of dual-purpose chitosan and polyethyleneimine (PEI) coated magnetic micelles (CP-mag-micelles) that can deliver nucleic acid-based therapeutic agents and also provide magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These 'theranostic' CP-mag-micelles are composed of monodisperse hydrophobic superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) loaded into the cores of micelles that are self-assembled from a block copolymer of poly (D, L-lactide) (PLA) and monomethoxy polyethylene glycol (mPEG). For efficient loading and protection of the nucleic acids the micelles were coated with cationic polymers, such as chitosan and PEI. The morphology and size distribution of the CP-mag-micelles were characterized and their potential for use as an MRI-probe was tested using an MRI scanner. The T(2) relaxivity of mag-micelles was similar to CP-mag-micelles confirming that coating with cationic polymers did not alter magnetism. Nanoparticles coated with chitosanPEI at a weight ratio of 55 showed higher transfection efficiency in HEK293, 3T3 and PC3 cells than with weight ratios of 37 or 73. CP-mag-micelles are biocompatible, can be delivered to various organs and are safe. A single injection of CP-mag-micelles carrying reporter plasmids in vivo expressed genes for at least one week. Collectively, our results demonstrate that a structural reinforcement of SPIONs loaded in the core of an mPEG-PLA micelle coated with cationic polymers provides efficient DNA delivery and enhanced MRI potential, and affords a promising candidate for theranostics in the future.