Six polysaccharides were extracted sequentially from the fresh sclerotium of Poria cocos cultivated in China using 0.9% NaCl (PCS1), hot water (PCS2), 0.5 M NaOH (PCS3-I and PCS3-II), and 88% formic acid (PCS4-I and PCS4-II). Their chemical and physical characteristics were determined using infrared spectroscopy (IR), gas chromatography (GC), GC-MS methylation analysis, C-13 NMR spectroscopy, elementary analysis (EA), protein analysis, size exclusion chromatography combined with laser light scattering (SEC-LLS), light scattering (LS), and viscometry. The results indicated that the polysaccharides PCS1, PCS2, and PCS3-I were heteropolysaccharides containing D-glucose, D-galactose, D-mannose, D-fucose, and D-xylose; the predominant monosaccharide was D-glucose except for PCS1 where it was D-galactose. PCS3-II, the main component of the sclerotium of P. cocos, was a linear (1 --> 3)-beta-D-glucan of high purity. PCS4-I consisted of (1 --> 3)-beta-D-glucan with some beta-(1 --> 6) linked branches. PCS4-II was mainly composed of (1 --> 3)-beta-D-glucan containing some glucose branches. The M-w values of the six polysaccharides PCS1, PCS2, PCS3-I, PCS4-I in 0.2M NaCl aqueous solution, PCS3-II, and PCS4-II in dimethyl sulfoxide (Me, SO) were determined to be 11.6 x 10(4), 20.8 x 10(4), 17.1 x 10(4), 9.1 x 10(4), 12.3 x 10(4), and 21.1 x 10(4), respectively. The six polysaccharides in aqueous solution or Me2SO exist as flexible chains. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.