What is the Surgical Benefit of Utilizing 5-Aminolevulinic Acid for Fluorescence-Guided Surgery of Malignant Gliomas?

Neurosurgery. 2015 Nov;77(5):663-73. doi: 10.1227/NEU.0000000000000929.


The current neurosurgical goal for patients with malignant gliomas is maximal safe resection of the contrast-enhancing tumor. However, a complete resection of the contrast-enhancing tumor is achieved only in a minority of patients. One reason for this limitation is the difficulty in distinguishing viable tumor from normal adjacent brain during surgery at the tumor margin using conventional white-light microscopy. To overcome this limitation, fluorescence-guided surgery (FGS) using 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) has been introduced in the treatment of malignant gliomas. FGS permits the intraoperative visualization of malignant glioma tissue and supports the neurosurgeon with real-time guidance for differentiating tumor from normal brain that is independent of neuronavigation and brain shift. Tissue fluorescence after oral administration of 5-ALA is associated with unprecedented high sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive values for identifying malignant glioma tumor tissue. 5-ALA-induced tumor fluorescence in diffusely infiltrating gliomas with non-significant magnetic resonance imaging contrast-enhancement permits intraoperative identification of anaplastic foci and establishment of an accurate histopathological diagnosis for proper adjuvant treatment. 5-ALA FGS has enabled surgeons to achieve a significantly higher rate of complete resections of malignant gliomas in comparison with conventional white-light resections. Consequently, 5-ALA FGS has become an indispensable surgical technique and standard of care at many neurosurgical departments around the world. We conducted an extensive literature review concerning the surgical benefit of using 5-ALA for FGS of malignant gliomas. According to the literature, there are a number of reasons for the neurosurgeon to perform 5-ALA FGS, which will be discussed in detail in the current review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aminolevulinic Acid* / metabolism
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Brain Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Fluorescence
  • Glioma / diagnosis
  • Glioma / metabolism
  • Glioma / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Monitoring, Intraoperative / methods*
  • Neuronavigation / methods*
  • Photosensitizing Agents* / metabolism


  • Photosensitizing Agents
  • Aminolevulinic Acid