5-ALA fluorescence-guided surgery in pediatric brain tumors-a systematic review

Acta Neurochir (Wien). 2019 Jun;161(6):1099-1108. doi: 10.1007/s00701-019-03898-1. Epub 2019 Apr 13.


Background: 5-Aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA)-guided resection of gliomas in adults enables better differentiation between tumor and normal brain tissue, allowing a higher degree of resection, and improves patient outcomes. In recent years, several reports have emerged regarding the use of 5-ALA in other brain tumor entities, including pediatric brains tumors. Since gross total resection (GTR) of many brain tumors in children is crucial and the role of 5-ALA-guided resection of these tumors is not clear, we sought to perform a comprehensive literature review on this topic.

Methods: A systematic literature review of EMBASE and MEDLINE/PubMed databases revealed 19 eligible publications encompassing 175 5-ALA-guided operations on pediatric brain tumors. To prevent bias, publications were revised independently by two authors.

Results: We found that 5-ALA-guided resection enabled the surgeons to identify the tumor more easily and was considered helpful mainly in cases of glioblastoma (GBM, 21/27, 78%), anaplastic ependymoma WHO grade III (10/14, 71%), and anaplastic astrocytoma (4/6, 67%). In contrast, cases of pilocytic astrocytomas (PAs) and medulloblastomas 5-ALA-guided surgery did not show consistent fluorescent signals and 5-ALA was considered helpful only in 12% and 22% of cases, respectively. Accumulation of fluorescent porphyrins seems to depend on WHO tumor grading. One important finding is that when 5-ALA-guided resections were considered helpful, the degree of resection was higher than is cases where it was not helpful. The rate of adverse events related to 5-ALA was negligible, especially new postoperative sequelae.

Conclusion: 5-ALA could play a role in resection of pediatric brain tumors. However, further prospective clinical trials are needed.

Keywords: 5-ALA; Pediatric brain tumors; Tumor resection.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aminolevulinic Acid
  • Brain Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Glioma / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photosensitizing Agents
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Surgery, Computer-Assisted / adverse effects
  • Surgery, Computer-Assisted / methods*


  • Photosensitizing Agents
  • Aminolevulinic Acid