Thermo-Mechanical Fractional Injury Enhances Skin Surface- and Epidermis- Protoporphyrin IX Fluorescence: Comparison of 5-Aminolevulinic Acid in Cream and Gel Vehicles

Lasers Surg Med. 2021 Jul;53(5):622-629. doi: 10.1002/lsm.23326. Epub 2020 Oct 1.


Background and objectives: Thermo-mechanical fractional injury (TMFI) impacts the skin barrier and may increase cutaneous drug uptake. This study investigated the potential of TMFI in combination with 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) cream and gel formulations to enhance Protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) fluorescence at the skin surface and in the skin.

Study design/materials and methods: In healthy volunteers (n = 12) a total of 144 test areas were demarcated on the upper back. Test areas were randomized to (i) TMFI (6 milliseconds, 400 µm at a single pass) or no pretreatment and (ii) 20% ALA in cream or gel formulations. Skin surface PpIX fluorescence was quantified by PpIX fluorescence photography and photometry in 30-minute intervals until 3 hours. PpIX fluorescence microscopy quantified separate PpIX fluorescence in the epidermis, and in superficial-, mid-, and deep- dermis from punch biopsies sampled after 3 hours of ALA incubation. Local skin reactions (LSR) and pain intensities (numerical rating scale 0-10) were evaluated immediately, at 3 hours and 14 days after the intervention.

Results: TMFI exposure before photosensitizer application significantly increased skin surface PpIX fluorescence, both for ALA cream (TMFI-ALA-cream 7848 arbitrary units [AU] vs. ALA-cream 5441 AU, 3 hours, P < 0.001) and ALA gel (TMFI + ALA-gel 4591 AU vs. ALA-gel 3723 AU, 3 hours, P < 0.001). The TMFI-mediated increase in PpIX fluorescence was similar for ALA-cream and -gel formulations (P = 0.470) at the skin surface. In the epidermis, PpIX fluorescence intensities increased from combination treatment with TMFI and ALA-cream (TMFI + ALA-cream 421 AU vs. ALA-cream 293 AU, P = 0.034) but not from combination with TMFI and ALA-gel (TMI + ALA-gel 264 AU vs. ALA-gel 261 AU, P = 0.791). Dermal fluorescence intensities (superficial-, mid-, or deep dermis) were unaffected by TMFI pretreatment in both ALA-cream and ALA-gel exposed skin (P = 0.339). ALA-cream generally induced higher PpIX fluorescence intensities than ALA-gel (skin surface P < 0.001 and epidermis P < 0.03). TMFI induced low pain intensities (median 3) and mild LSR that were resolved at 14 days follow-up.

Conclusion: Given the present study design, TMFI, in combination with the standardized application of 20% ALA cream and gel formulations, significantly enhanced skin surface PpIX fluorescence compared to no pretreatment. Additionally, TMFI increased epidermal PpIX fluorescence combined with 20% ALA cream vehicle. Thus, TMFI pretreatment and formulation characteristics exert influence on PpIX fluorescence intensities in normal skin. Lasers Surg. Med. © 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC.

Keywords: 5-aminolevulinic acid; Protoporphyrin IX; actinic keratoses; fluorescence microscopy; photodynamic therapy; stratum corneum; thermo-mechanical fractional injury; thermo-mechanical system; vehicle viscosity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aminolevulinic Acid* / pharmacology
  • Epidermis
  • Humans
  • Photochemotherapy*
  • Protoporphyrins


  • Protoporphyrins
  • Aminolevulinic Acid
  • protoporphyrin IX

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