Evaluating the Mechanisms of Light-Triggered siRNA Release from Nanoshells for Temporal Control over Gene Regulation

Rachel S. Riley, Megan N. Dang, Margaret M. Billingsley, Baxter Abraham, Lars Gundlach, Emily S. Day

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The ability to regulate intracellular gene expression with exogenous nucleic acids such as small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) has substantial potential to improve the study and treatment of disease. However, most transfection agents and nanoparticle-based carriers that are used for the intracellular delivery of nucleic acids cannot distinguish between diseased and healthy cells, which may cause them to yield unintended widespread gene regulation. An ideal delivery system would only silence targeted proteins in diseased tissue in response to an external stimulus. To enable spatiotemporal control over gene silencing, researchers have begun to develop nucleic acid-nanoparticle conjugates that keep their nucleic acid cargo inactive until it is released from the nanoparticle on-demand by externally applied near-infrared laser light. This strategy can overcome several limitations of other nucleic acid delivery systems, but the mechanisms by which these platforms operate remain ill understood. Here, we perform a detailed investigation of the mechanisms by which silica core/gold shell nanoshells (NSs) release conjugated siRNA upon excitation with either pulsed or continuous wave (CW) near-infrared (NIR) light, with the goal of providing insight into how these nanoconjugates can enable on-demand gene regulation. We demonstrate that siRNA release from NSs upon pulsed laser irradiation is a temperature-independent process that is substantially more efficient than siRNA release triggered by CW irradiation. Contrary to literature, which suggests that only pulsed irradiation releases siRNA duplexes, we found that both modes of irradiation release a mixture of siRNA duplexes and single-stranded oligonucleotides, but that pulsed irradiation results in a higher percentage of released duplexes. To demonstrate that the siRNA released from NSs upon pulsed irradiation remains functional, we evaluated the use of NSs coated with green fluorescent protein (GFP)-targeted siRNA (siGFP-NS) for on-demand knockdown of GFP in cells. We found that GFP-expressing cells treated with siGFP-NS and irradiated with a pulsed laser experienced a 33% decrease in GFP expression compared to cells treated with no laser. Further, we observed that light-triggered gene silencing mediated by siGFP-NS is more potent than using commercial transfection agents to deliver siRNA into cells. This work provides unprecedented insight into the mechanisms by which plasmonic NSs release siRNA upon light irradiation and demonstrates the importance of thoroughly characterizing photoresponsive nanosystems for applications in triggered gene regulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3565-3570
Number of pages6
JournalNano Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 13 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Evaluating the Mechanisms of Light-Triggered siRNA Release from Nanoshells for Temporal Control over Gene Regulation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this