A laser system can be coupled to a light microscope for laser microbeam ablation and trapping of single cells in vitro. We have extended this technology by sensitization of target structures with vital dyes to provide selective ablation of specific subcellular components. Isolated auditory receptor cells (outer hair cells, OHCs) are known to elongate and contract in response to electrical, chemical and mechanical stimulation. Various intracellular structures are candidate components mediating motility of OHCs, but the exact mechanism(s) is currently unknown. In ongoing studies of OHC motility, we have used the microbeam for selective ablation of lateral wall components and of an axial cytoskeletal core that extends from the nucleus to the cell apex. Both the area beneath the subsurface cistemae of the lateral wall and the core are rich in mitochondria. OHCs isolated from guinea pig cochlea are suspended in L- 15 medium containing 2.0 (mu) M Rhodamine 123, a porphyrin with an affinity for mitochondria. A spark-pumped nitrogen laser pumping a dye cell (Coumarin 500) was aligned on the optical axis of a Nikon Optiphot-2 to produce a 3 ns, 0.5 - 10 micrometers spot (diameter above ablation threshold w/50X water immersion, N.A. 0.8), and energy at the target approximately equals 10 (mu) J/pulse. At short incubation times in Rh123 irradiation caused local blebbing or bulging of cytoplastic membrane and thus loss of the OHC's cylindrical shape. At longer Rh123 incubation times when the central axis of the cell was targeted we observed cytoplasmic clearing, immediate cell elongation (approximately equals 5%) and clumping of core material at nuclear and apical attachments. Experiments are underway to examine the significance of these preliminary observations.