Plasmonic activation of gold nanorods for remote stimulation of calcium signaling and protein expression in HEK 293T cells

Biotechnol Bioeng. 2016 Oct;113(10):2228-40. doi: 10.1002/bit.25984. Epub 2016 Apr 8.


Remote activation of specific cells of a heterogeneous population can provide a useful research tool for clinical and therapeutic applications. Here, we demonstrate that photostimulation of gold nanorods (AuNRs) using a tunable near-infrared (NIR) laser at specific longitudinal surface plasmon resonance wavelengths can induce the selective and temporal internalization of calcium in HEK 293T cells. Biotin-PEG-Au nanorods coated with streptavidin Alexa Fluor-633 and biotinylated anti-His antibodies were used to decorate cells genetically modified with His-tagged TRPV1 temperature-sensitive ion channel and AuNRs conjugated to biotinylated RGD peptide were used to decorate integrins in unmodified cells. Plasmonic activation can be stimulated at weak laser power (0.7-4.0 W/cm(2) ) without causing cell damage. Selective activation of TRPV1 channels could be controlled by laser power between 1.0 and 1.5 W/cm(2) . Integrin targeting robustly stimulated calcium signaling due to a dense cellular distribution of nanoparticles. Such an approach represents a functional tool for combinatorial activation of cell signaling in heterogeneous cell populations. Our results suggest that it is possible to induce cell activation via NIR-induced gold nanorod heating through the selective targeting of membrane proteins in unmodified cells to produce calcium signaling and downstream expression of specific genes with significant relevance for both in vitro and therapeutic applications. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2016;113: 2228-2240. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: TRPV1 ion channel; calcium signaling; combinatorial activation; gold nanorods; integrins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology*
  • Calcium Signaling / radiation effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / radiation effects
  • Gold / radiation effects*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Infrared Rays*
  • Metal Nanoparticles / radiation effects
  • Nanotubes / radiation effects*
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Surface Plasmon Resonance / methods
  • TRPV Cation Channels / metabolism*


  • TRPV Cation Channels
  • TRPV1 protein, human
  • Gold
  • Calcium