Photodynamic Therapy and the Biophysics of the Tumor Microenvironment

Photochem Photobiol. 2020 Mar;96(2):232-259. doi: 10.1111/php.13209. Epub 2020 Mar 5.


Targeting the tumor microenvironment (TME) provides opportunities to modulate tumor physiology, enhance the delivery of therapeutic agents, impact immune response and overcome resistance. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a photochemistry-based, nonthermal modality that produces reactive molecular species at the site of light activation and is in the clinic for nononcologic and oncologic applications. The unique mechanisms and exquisite spatiotemporal control inherent to PDT enable selective modulation or destruction of the TME and cancer cells. Mechanical stress plays an important role in tumor growth and survival, with increasing implications for therapy design and drug delivery, but remains understudied in the context of PDT and PDT-based combinations. This review describes pharmacoengineering and bioengineering approaches in PDT to target cellular and noncellular components of the TME, as well as molecular targets on tumor and tumor-associated cells. Particular emphasis is placed on the role of mechanical stress in the context of targeted PDT regimens, and combinations, for primary and metastatic tumors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Photochemotherapy*
  • Photosensitizing Agents / pharmacology*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects*


  • Photosensitizing Agents