Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Remote control of ion channels and neurons through magnetic-field heating of nanoparticles


Recently, optical stimulation1,2,3 has begun to unravel the neuronal processing that controls certain animal behaviours4,5. 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.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Principles of ion channel stimulation using nanoparticle heating and local temperature sensing.
Figure 2: Genetic targeting of nanoparticles to specific cells and localized membrane heating.
Figure 3: Opening of TRPV1 channels and activation of action potentials.
Figure 4: Remote stimulation of thermal avoidance response in C. elegans.


  1. 1

    Zemelman, B. V., Lee, G. A., Ng, M. & Miesenbock, G. Selective photostimulation of genetically charged neurons. Neuron 33, 15–22 (2002).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Boyden, E. S., Zhang, F., Bamberg, E., Nagel, G. & Deisseroth, K. Millisecond-timescale, genetically targeted optical control of neural activity. Nature Neurosci. 8, 1263–1268 (2005).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Banghart, M., Borges, K., Isacoff, E., Trauner, D. & Kramer, R. H. Light-activated ion channels for remote control of neuronal firing. Nature Neurosci. 7, 1381–1386 (2004).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Tsai, H. C. et al. Phasic firing in dopaminergic neurons is sufficient for behavioral conditioning. Science 324, 1080–1084 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Gradinaru, V., Mogri, M., Thompson, K. R., Henderson, J. M. & Deisseroth, K. Optical deconstruction of parkinsonian neural circuitry. Science 324, 354–359 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Wang, N., Butler, J. P. & Ingber, D. E. Mechanotransduction across the cell surface and through the cytoskeleton. Science 260, 1124–1127 (1993).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Hughes, S., McBain, S., Dobson, J. & El Haj, A. J. Selective activation of mechanosensitive ion channels using magnetic particles. J. R. Soc. Interface 5, 855–863 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Mannix, R. J. et al. Nanomagnetic actuation of receptor-mediated signal transduction. Nature Nanotech. 3, 36–40 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Caterina, M. J. et al. The capsaicin receptor: a heat-activated ion channel in the pain pathway. Nature 389, 816–824 (1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Tominaga, M. et al. The cloned capsaicin receptor integrates multiple pain-producing stimuli. Neuron 21, 531–543 (1998).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Lima, S. Q. & Miesenbock, G. Remote control of behavior through genetically targeted photostimulation of neurons. Cell 121, 141–152 (2005).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Zeng, H., Rice, P. M., Wang, S. X. & Sun, S. Shape-controlled synthesis and shape-induced texture of MnFe2O4 nanoparticles. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 126, 11458–11459 (2004).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Sun, S. et al. Monodisperse MFe2O4 (M = Fe, Co, Mn) nanoparticles. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 126, 273–279 (2004).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Jun, Y.-W. et al. Nanoscale size effect of magnetic nanocrystals and their utilization for cancer diagnosis via magnetic resonance imaging. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 127, 5732–5733 (2005).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Lee, J.-H. et al. Artificially engineered magnetic nanoparticles for ultra-sensitive molecular imaging. Nature Med. 13, 95–99 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Duhr, S., Arduini, S. & Braun, D. Thermophoresis of DNA determined by microfluidic fluorescence. Eur. Phys. J. E 15, 277–286 (2004).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Kalab, P., Pralle, A., Isacoff, E. Y., Heald, R. & Weis, K. Analysis of a RanGTP-regulated gradient in mitotic somatic cells. Nature 440, 697–701 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Karstens, T. & Kobs, K. Rhodamine B and Rhodamine 101 as reference substances for fluorescence quantum yield measurements. J. Phys. Chem. 84, 1871–1872 (1980).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Howarth, M., Takao, K., Hayashi, Y. & Ting, A. Y. Targeting quantum dots to surface proteins in living cells with biotin ligase. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 102, 7583–7588 (2005).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Howarth, M. & Ting, A. Y. Imaging proteins in live mammalian cells with biotin ligase and monovalent streptavidin. Nature Protoc. 3, 534–545 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Hilger, I. et al. Evaluation of temperature increase with different amounts of magnetite in liver tissue samples. Invest. Radiol. 32, 705–712 (1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Hergt, R. et al. Maghemite nanoparticles with very high AC-losses for application in RF-magnetic hyperthermia. J. Magn. Magn. Mater. 270, 345–357 (2004).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Mank, M. et al. A FRET-based calcium biosensor with fast signal kinetics and high fluorescence change. Biophys. J. 90, 1790–1796 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Hübener, G., Lambacher, A. & Fromherz, P. Anellated hemicyanine dyes with large symmetrical solvatochromism of absorption and fluorescence. J. Phys. Chem. B 107, 7896–7902 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Wittenburg, N. & Baumeister, R. Thermal avoidance in Caenorhabditis elegans: an approach to the study of nociception. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 96, 10477–10482 (1999).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Grancharov, S. G. et al. Bio-functionalization of monodisperse magnetic nanoparticles and their use as biomolecular labels in a magnetic tunnel junction based sensor. J. Phys. Chem. B 109, 13030–13035 (2005).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Wang, Y. Y. et al. Addressing the PEG mucoadhesivity paradox to engineer nanoparticles that ‘slip’ through the human mucus barrier. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 47, 9726–9729 (2008)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Wood, W. B. The Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 1988).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank F. Qin for the TRPV1 plasmid and initial assistance, A. Ting for the biotin acceptor peptide-cyan fluorescent protein-transmembrane (AP-CFP-TM) and BirA constructs, and O. Griesbeck for the TN-XL plasmid. J. Pazik is acknowledged for technical assistance, and Y. Hsu, V. Rana, M.J. Ezak and M. Zugravu for valuable discussions.

Author information




A.P. designed the study. H.H. carried out nanoparticle coating and cellular measurements. S.D. and H.Z. were responsible for nanoparticle synthesis and characterization, and D.M.F. for the C. elegans experiments. A.P. and H.H. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript. The work was supported by NSF DMR-0547036, UB IRDF, RF and INSIF.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Arnd Pralle.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary information (PDF 1161 kb)

Supplementary information

Supplementary movie 1 (MOV 1751 kb)

Supplementary information

Supplementary movie 2 (MOV 897 kb)

Supplementary information

Supplementary movie 3 (MOV 1261 kb)

Supplementary information

Supplementary movie 4 (MOV 573 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Huang, H., Delikanli, S., Zeng, H. et al. Remote control of ion channels and neurons through magnetic-field heating of nanoparticles. Nature Nanotech 5, 602–606 (2010).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Find nanotechnology articles, nanomaterial data and patents all in one place. Visit Nano by Nature Research