In general, a molecular surgery agent is a selective and potent ligand, and the target is a specific cell type whose elimination is desired through the molecular surgery procedure. These target cells have the highest innate sensitivity to the molecular surgery agent usually due to the highest receptor density being in their plasma membrane.

The interaction between the ligand and its receptor evokes an overactivity of the receptor. If the receptor is a ligand-activated non-selective cation channel, the overactivity of receptor leads to excess Ca2+ and Na+ influx into the cell and finally cell death.

One of the best-known examples of such an interaction is the effect of ultrapotent vanilloids on TRPV1-expressing pain-sensing neurons. One intrathecal resiniferatoxin (RTX) dose allows for the receptor-mediated removal of TRPV1+ neurons from the peripheral nervous system.

The TRPV1 receptor-mediated ion influx induces necrotic processes, but only in pain-sensing neurons, and usually within an hour. Besides that, target-specific apoptotic processes are also induced. Thus, as a nano-surgery scalpel, RTX removes the neurons responsible for generating pain and inflammation from the peripheral nervous system providing an option in clinical management for the treatment of morphine-insensitive pain conditions.

In the future, the molecular surgery concept can also be exploited in cancer research for selectively targeting the specific tumor cell.