The role of apoptosis in response to photodynamic therapy: what, where, why, and how

Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2002 Jan;1(1):1-21. doi: 10.1039/b108586g.


Photodynamic therapy (PDT), a treatment for cancer and for certain benign conditions, utilizes a photosensitizer and light to produce reactive oxygen in cells. PDT is primarily employed to kill tumor and other abnormal cells, so it is important to ask how this occurs. Many of the photosensitizers currently in clinical or pre-clinical studies of PDT localize in or have a major influence on mitochondria, and PDT is a strong inducer of apoptosis in many situations. The purpose of this review is to critically evaluate all of the recently published research on PDT-induced apoptosis, with a focus on studies providing mechanistic insights. Components of the mechanism whereby PDT causes cells to undergo apoptosis are becoming understood, as are the influences of several signal transduction pathways on the response. Future research should be directed to elucidating the role(s) of the multiple steps in apoptosis in directing damaged cells to an apoptotic vs. necrotic pathway and for producing tumor ablation in conjunction with tissue-level mechanisms operating in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Photochemotherapy*
  • Photosensitizing Agents / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • NF-kappa B
  • Photosensitizing Agents
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Caspases