Magnesium plays an important role in the body, mediating cell-extracellular matrix interactions and bone apatite structure and density. This study investigated, for the first time, the effects of adding magnesium oxide (MgO) nanoparticles to poly (L-lactic acid) (PLLA) and to hydroxyapatite (HA) nanoparticle-PLLA composites for orthopedic tissue engineering applications. Results showed that MgO nanoparticles significantly enhanced osteoblast adhesion and proliferation on HA-PLLA nanocomposites while maintaining mechanical properties (Young's modulus similar to 1000 MPa) suitable for cancellous bone applications. Additionally, osteoblasts (or bone-forming cells) cultured in the supernatant of degrading nanocomposites showed improved proliferation in the presence of magnesium, indicating that the increased alkalinity of solutions containing MgO nanocomposites had no toxic effects towards cells. These results together indicated the promise of further studying MgO nanoparticles as additive materials to polymers to enhance the integration of implanted biomaterials with bone. (C) 2014 Acta Materialia Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.