Recently, optical stimulation has begun to unravel the neuronal processing that controls certain animal behaviours. However, optical approaches are limited by the inability of visible light to penetrate deep into tissues. Here, we show an approach based on radio-frequency magnetic-field heating of nanoparticles to remotely activate temperature-sensitive cation channels in cells. Superparamagnetic ferrite nanoparticles were targeted to specific proteins on the plasma membrane of cells expressing TRPV1, and heated by a radio-frequency magnetic field. Using fluorophores as molecular thermometers, we show that the induced temperature increase is highly localized. Thermal activation of the channels triggers action potentials in cultured neurons without observable toxic effects. This approach can be adapted to stimulate other cell types and, moreover, may be used to remotely manipulate other cellular machinery for novel therapeutics.