Pulsed electric fields (PEFs) can be used to transiently increase cell membrane permeability in procedures ranging from gene therapy to tumor eradication. Although very efficient, PEF-based therapies generally require the use of invasive electrodes, which cause pain and tissue damage. An emerging noninvasive, contactless alternative to PEFs are High Intensity Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (HI-PEMF), whereby the electric field inside the tissue is induced remotely by external pulsed magnetic field. However, one of the current major drawbacks of HI-PEMFs is their inferior efficiency compared to PEFs. In this study we present the proof-of-concept that by adding highly conductive 5 and 20 nm gold nanoparticles (Au NPs), we can significantly potentiate the permeabilizing effect of HI-PEMFs, making it possible to permeabilize up to 80% of the cells with minimal or no effect on cell survival, compared to negligible percentage of permeabilized cells using HI-PEMF alone. Experiments, conducted on Chinese Hamster Ovary cells and Escherichia coli, suggest that Au NPs act as distributed nanoelectrodes, locally enhancing the electric field induced at the plasma membrane. Our findings open up an avenue of possibilities for combining naked as well as functionalized Au NPs with HI-PEMFs for noninvasive, remotely controlled smart drug delivery applications.

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