Aminolaevulinic acid (ALA) is the first committed step in haem synthesis. In the presence of excess ALA the natural regulatory feedback system is disrupted allowing accumulation of protoporphyrin IX (PP IX) the last intermediate product before haem, and an effective sensitiser. This method of endogenous photosensitisation of cells has been exploited for photodynamic therapy (PDT). We have studied the fluorescence distribution and biological effect of induced PP IX in normal and tumour tissue in the rat colon. Fluorescence in normal colonic tissue was at a peak of 4 h with a rapid fall off by 6 h. The fluorescence had returned to background levels by 24 h. All normal tissue layers followed the same fluorescence profile but the mucosa showed fluorescent levels six times higher than the submucosa, with muscle barely above background values. At 6 h the ratio of fluorescence levels between normal mucosa and viable tumour was approximately 1:6. At this time laser treatment showed necrosis of normal mucosa and tumour with sparing of normal muscle. There was good correlation between the fluorescence distribution and the biological effect of ALA-induced photosensitisation on exposure to red light. ALA may be superior to conventional sensitisers for tumours that produce haem as the PP IX is synthesised in malignant cells while the other sensitisers mainly localise to the vascular stroma of tumours. There is also a greater concentration difference between the PP IX levels in tumours and in normal mucosa and normal muscle than with the other photosensitisers raising the possibility of more selective necrosis in tumours.