Laser Activated Nano-Thermolysis was recently proposed for selective damage of individual target (cancer) cells by pulsed laser induced microbubbles around superheated clusters of optically absorbing nanoparticles (NP). One of the clinical applications of this technology is the elimination of residual tumor cells from human blood and bone marrow. Clinical standards for the safety and efficacy of such procedure require the development and verification of highly selective and controllable mechanisms of cell killing. Our previous experiments showed that laser-induced microbubble is the main damaging factor in the case cell irradiation by short laser pulses above the threshold. Our current aim was to study the cell damage mechanisms and analyze selectivity and efficacy of cell damage as a function of NP parameters, NP-cell interaction conditions, and conditions of bubble generation around NP and NP clusters in cells. Generation of laser-induced bubbles around gold NP with diameters 10-250 nm was studied in Acute Myeloblast Leukemia (AML) cultures, normal stem and model K562 human cells. Short laser pulses (10 ns, 532 nm) were applied to those cells in vitro and the processes in cells were investigated with photothermal, fluorescent and atomic force microscopies and also with fluorescence flow cytometry. We have found that the best selectivity of cell damage is achieved by (1) forming large clusters of optically absorbing NP in target cells and (2) irradiating the cells with single laser pulses with the lowest fluence that can generate microbubble only around large clusters but not around single NP. Laser microbubbles with the lifetime from 20 ns to 2000 ns generated in individual cells caused damage and lysis of the cellular membrane and consequently cell death. Laser microbubbles did not damage normal cells around the damaged target (tumor) cell. Laser irradiation with equal fluence did not cause any damage of cells without accumulated NP clusters.© (2007) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.