This dissertation examines the response of the plasma membrane to perturbations by synthetic nanoparticles and ultra-fast laser pulses. Both model membranes and living cells were examined in to characterize membrane disruption and the biological response to perturbation. These studies provide a deeper understanding of cell biology and guide the design of effective nanoparticle- or laser-based therapies, as well as warning about unintended exposure. In regards to membrane disruption by pulsed-laser irradiation, irradiation induced giant plasma membrane vesicles (GPMVs) on the surface of the living cell. This process involved the incorporation of material from the extracellular media into both the cytoplasm and the GPMV as the cell responded to the intense pressure and temperature gradients induced by irradiation and the subsequent cavitation. Further, the cell exposed phosphotidylserine to the exterior surface of the plasma membrane and GPMV and initiated caspase activity. Single particle tracking of 20 nm fluorescent beads within the GPMVs demonstrated a complex, gelatinous structure within the GPMV. In regards to nanoparticle-based perturbations, techniques such as isothermal titration calorimetry and molecular dynamics were used to investigate the relationship between nanoparticle properties and membrane disruption. Molecular dynamics simulations examined the binding of third-generation poly(amidoamine) dendrimers to phosphatidylcholine bilayers as a function on nanoparticle termination and membrane phase. A potential of mean force was calculated and demonstrated that the charged dendrimers bound to the zwitterionic phospholipids with approximately 50% more free energy release than uncharged dendrimers. Further, the difference in dendrimer binding to gel and fluid lipids was largely due to the hydrophobic interactions between the lipid tails and the non-polar dendrimer moieties. Isothermal titration calorimetry examined the heat release upon interaction between dendrimers and phospholipids. Identification of key changes in the heat release versus dendrimer-lipid molar ratio suggested the formation of a supramolecular complex dependent on the generation and termination of the dendrimer. This work suggested that dendrimers of seventh-generation or greater formed vesicle-encased dendrimer complexes while smaller dendrimers primarily formed complexes of the dendrimer flattened on a planar bilayer
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