Endogenous protoporphyrin IX, a clinically useful photosensitizer for photodynamic therapy

J Photochem Photobiol B. 1992 Jul 30;14(4):275-92. doi: 10.1016/1011-1344(92)85108-7.


The tissue photosensitizer protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) is an immediate precursor of heme in the biosynthetic pathway for heme. In certain types of cells and tissues, the rate of synthesis of PpIX is determined by the rate of synthesis of 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA), which in turn is regulated via a feedback control mechanism governed by the concentration of free heme. The presence of exogenous ALA bypasses the feedback control, and thus may induce the intracellular accumulation of photosensitizing concentrations of PpIX. However, this occurs only in certain types of cells and tissues. The resulting tissue-specific photosensitization provides a basis for using ALA-induced PpIX for photodynamic therapy. The topical application of ALA to certain malignant and non-malignant lesions of the skin can induce a clinically useful degree of lesion-specific photosensitization. Superficial basal cell carcinomas showed a complete response rate of approximately 79% following a single exposure to light. Recent preclinical studies in experimental animals and human volunteers indicate that ALA can induce a localized tissue-specific photosensitization if administered by intradermal injection. A generalized but still quite tissue-specific photosensitization may be induced if ALA is administered by either subcutaneous or intraperitoneal injection or by mouth. This opens the possibility of using ALA-induced PpIX to treat tumors that are too thick or that lie too deep to be accessible to either topical or locally injected ALA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aminolevulinic Acid / metabolism*
  • Aminolevulinic Acid / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Heme / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Photochemotherapy*
  • Prodrugs / metabolism*
  • Prodrugs / therapeutic use*
  • Protoporphyrins / metabolism*
  • Protoporphyrins / therapeutic use*


  • Prodrugs
  • Protoporphyrins
  • Heme
  • Aminolevulinic Acid
  • protoporphyrin IX