Time-resolved imaging, fluorescence microscopy, and hydrodynamic modeling were used to examine cell lysis and molecular delivery produced by picosecond and nanosecond pulsed laser microbeam irradiation in adherent cell cultures. Pulsed laser microbeam radiation at λ = 532 nm was delivered to confluent monolayers of PtK2cells via a 40×, 0.8 NA microscope objective. Using laser microbeam pulse durations of 180-1100 ps and pulse energies of 0.5-10.5 μJ, we examined the resulting plasma formation and cavitation bubble dynamics that lead to laser-induced cell lysis, necrosis, and molecular delivery. The cavitation bubble dynamics are imaged at times of 0.5 ns to 50 μs after the pulsed laser microbeam irradiation, and fluorescence assays assess the resulting cell viability and molecular delivery of 3 kDa dextran molecules. Reductions in both the threshold laser microbeam pulse energy for plasma formation and the cavitation bubble energy are observed with decreasing pulse duration. These energy reductions provide for increased precision of laser-based cellular manipulation including cell lysis, cell necrosis, and molecular delivery. Hydrodynamic analysis reveals critical values for the shear-stress impulse generated by the cavitation bubble dynamics governs the location and spatial extent of cell necrosis and molecular delivery independent of pulse duration and pulse energy. Specifically, cellular exposure to a shear-stress impulse Jâ‰0.1 Pa s ensures cell lysis or necrosis, whereas exposures in the range of 0. 035â‰Jâ‰0.1 Pa s preserve cell viability while also enabling molecular delivery of 3 kDa dextran. Exposure to shear-stress impulses of Jâ‰0.035 Pa s leaves the cells unaffected. Hydrodynamic analysis of these data, combined with data from studies of 6 ns microbeam irradiation, demonstrates the primacy of shear-stress impulse in determining cellular outcome resulting from pulsed laser microbeam irradiation spanning a nearly two-orders-of-magnitude range of pulse energy and pulse duration. These results provide a mechanistic foundation and design strategy applicable to a broad range of laser-based cellular manipulation procedures. © 2013 Biophysical Society.