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.
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.