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Mapping photothermally induced gene expression in living cells and tissues by nanorod-locked nucleic acid complexes.


The photothermal effect of plasmonic nanostructures has numerous applications, such as cancer therapy, photonic gene circuit, large cargo delivery, and nanostructure-enhanced laser tweezers. The photothermal operation can also induce unwanted physical and biochemical effects, which potentially alter the cell behaviors. However, there is a lack of techniques for characterizing the dynamic cell responses near the site of photothermal operation with high spatiotemporal resolution. In this work, we show that the incorporation of locked nucleic acid probes with gold nanorods allows photothermal manipulation and real-time monitoring of gene expression near the area of irradiation in living cells and animal tissues. The multimodal gold nanorod serves as an endocytic delivery reagent to transport the probes into the cells, a fluorescence quencher and a binding competitor to detect intracellular mRNA, and a plasmonic photothermal transducer to induce cell ablation. We demonstrate the ability of the gold nanorod-locked nucleic acid complex for detecting the spatiotemporal gene expression in viable cells and tissues and inducing photothermal ablation of single cells. Using the gold nanorod-locked nucleic acid complex, we systematically characterize the dynamic cellular heat shock responses near the site of photothermal operation. The gold nanorod-locked nucleic acid complex enables mapping of intracellular gene expressions and analyzes the photothermal effects of nanostructures toward various biomedical applications.