Investigation of cell death mechanisms in human lymphatic endothelial cells undergoing photodynamic therapy

Photodiagnosis Photodyn Ther. 2016 Jun;14:57-65. doi: 10.1016/j.pdpdt.2016.02.004. Epub 2016 Feb 8.


Background: Photodynamic therapy (PDT) has been shown to induce ablation and functional occlusion of tumor-associated lymphatic vessels. However, direct effects of PDT on lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) have not been studied so far. The aim of this study was to elucidate molecular mechanisms of cell death induced by PDT in human LECs.

Methods: Verteporfin was used as a photosensitizer to investigate PDT-mediated damage of lymphatic vessels in mice using immunofluorescent staining and stereomicroscopy. In vitro dose-response studies were carried-out with crystal violet staining. Immunofluorescence, flow cytometry, immunoblotting and DNA electrophoresis were used to investigate the mechanisms of cell death in human LECs undergoing PDT.

Results: PDT induced an increase in the number of propidium iodide positive lymphatic endothelial cells in the mouse dermis. In in vitro studies dose-dependent cytotoxic effects of PDT towards LECs were observed. Typical hallmarks of apoptotic cell death, including Annexin V binding, loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, caspase activation, cleavage of PARP as well as DNA fragmentation were observed in LECs when PDT was used at high irradiation conditions, causing >80% cell death. At lower light fluencies causing <50% cell death PDT induced autophagy rather than apoptosis, as revealed by conversion of LC3-I to the autophagosomal LC3-II and formation of LC3 puncta. Z-VAD-FMK, a caspase inhibitor, prevented cell death induced by high-dose PDT only, while 3-methyladenine, an autophagy suppressor, inhibited cell death induced by low-dose PDT.

Conclusions: Both apoptosis and autophagy are involved in cell death induced by verteporfin-PDT in LECs.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Autophagy; Lymphatic endothelial cells; Photodynamic therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Humans
  • Lymph / cytology*
  • Mice
  • Photochemotherapy*
  • Photosensitizing Agents / pharmacology
  • Photosensitizing Agents / therapeutic use
  • Porphyrins / pharmacology*
  • Porphyrins / therapeutic use
  • Verteporfin


  • Photosensitizing Agents
  • Porphyrins
  • Verteporfin