Photodynamic therapy with endogenous protoporphyrin IX: basic principles and present clinical experience

J Photochem Photobiol B. 1990 Jun;6(1-2):143-8. doi: 10.1016/1011-1344(90)85083-9.


5-Aminolaevulinic acid (ALA) is a precursor of protoporphyrin IX (Pp IX) in the biosynthetic pathway for haem. Certain types of cells have a large capacity to synthesize Pp IX when exposed to an adequate concentration of exogenous ALA. Since the conversion of Pp IX into haem is relatively slow, such cells tend to accumulate photosensitizing concentrations of Pp IX. Pp IX photosensitization can be induced in cells of the epidermis and its appendages, but not in the dermis. Moreover, since ALA in aqueous solution passes readily through abnormal keratin, but not through normal keratin, the topical application of ALA in aqueous solution to actinic keratoses or superficial basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas induces Pp IX photosensitization that is restricted primarily to the abnormal epithelium. Subsequent exposure to photoactivating light selectively destroys such lesions. In our ongoing clinical trial of ALA-induced Pp IX photodynamic therapy, the response rate for basal cell carcinomas following a single treatment has been 90% complete response and 7.5% partial response for the first 80 lesions treated. The cosmetic results have been excellent, and patient acceptance has been very good.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aminolevulinic Acid / metabolism
  • Aminolevulinic Acid / therapeutic use*
  • Aminolevulinic Acid / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Keratosis / drug therapy*
  • Photochemotherapy*
  • Prodrugs / therapeutic use*
  • Protoporphyrins / biosynthesis*
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents*
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy*


  • Prodrugs
  • Protoporphyrins
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents
  • Aminolevulinic Acid
  • protoporphyrin IX