Near-infrared light-controlled regulation of intracellular calcium to modulate macrophage polarization

Heemin Kang, Kunyu Zhang, Dexter Siu Hong Wong, Fengxuan Han, Bin Li, Liming Bian

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Macrophages are multifunctional immune cells with diverse physiological functions such as fighting against infection, influencing progression of pathologies, maintaining homeostasis, and regenerating tissues. Macrophages can be induced to adopt distinct polarized phenotypes, such as classically activated pro-inflammatory (M1) phenotypes or alternatively activated anti-inflammatory and pro-healing (M2), to execute diverse and dynamic immune functions. However, unbalanced polarizations of macrophage can lead to various pathologies, such as atherosclerosis, obesity, tumor, and asthma. Thus, the capability to remotely control macrophage phenotypes is important to the success of treating many pathological conditions involving macrophages. In this study, we developed an upconversion nanoparticle (UCNP)-based photoresponsive nanocarrier for near-infrared (NIR) light-mediated control of intracellular calcium levels to regulate macrophage polarization. UCNP was coated with mesoporous silica (UCNP@mSiO2), into which loaded calcium regulators that can either supply or deplete calcium ions. UCNP@mSiO2 was chemically modified through serial coupling of photocleavable linker and Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) peptide-bearing molecular cap via cyclodextrin-adamantine host-guest complexation. The RGD-bearing cap functioned as the photolabile gating structure to control the release of calcium regulators and facilitated the cellular uptake of UCNP@mSiO2 nanocarrier. The upconverted UV light emission from the UCNP@mSiO2 under NIR light excitation triggered the cleavage of cap and intracellular release of calcium regulators, thereby allowing temporal regulation on the intracellular calcium levels. Application of NIR light through skin tissue promoted M1 or M2 polarization of macrophages, by elevating or depleting intracellular calcium levels, respectively. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of NIR light-mediated remote control on macrophage polarization. This photoresponsive nanocarrier offers the potential to remotely manipulate in vivo immune functions, such as inflammation or tissue regeneration, via NIR light-controlled macrophage polarization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681-696
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


  • Calcium regulation
  • Macrophage polarization
  • Near-infrared light control
  • Photocleavable cap
  • Upconversion nanoparticle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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