Cellular fluorescence of the endogenous photosensitizer protoporphyrin IX following exposure to 5-aminolevulinic acid

Photochem Photobiol. 1995 Nov;62(5):887-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.1995.tb09152.x.


Supplying 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA), a precursor in the biosynthetic pathway to heme from an external source leads to an accumulation of the endogenous fluorescent photosensitizer protoporphyrin IX (PPIX). Following instillation of ALA in the urinary bladder neoplastic tissue can be discerned by fluorescence cystoscopy or treated by illumination with light of an appropriate wavelength. In order to provide a biological rationale for the clinical findings, we have analyzed the capacity of three different cell lines to accumulate PPIX by flow cytometry. Three different urothelial cell lines, normal fibroblasts and endothelial cells were exposed to ALA under varying conditions. Urothelial cell lines J82 and RT4, derived from malignancies of the bladder displayed fluorescence intensities 9- and 16-fold, respectively, above the fluorescence level of the normal urothelial cell line HCV29. Human umbilical cord endothelial cells fluoresced moderately while the fibroblast cell line N1 exhibited a fluorescence level comparable to those of the cancer cells. Fluorescence increased with increasing cell density and was also dependent on the growth of cells as monolayers or multicellular spheroids. Increasing ALA concentrations led to saturation of fluorescence after 4 h of incubation at cell type-specific fluorescence levels obtained at different ALA concentrations. Continuous incubation in medium containing serum resulted in a linear rise of fluorescence during the first 4 h, which was followed by a saturation period (8-24 h) and a renewed rise. In the case of serum depletion, fluorescence intensities were significantly higher and increased linearly during the entire 48 h incubation period.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aminolevulinic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescence
  • Humans
  • Photochemotherapy
  • Photosensitizing Agents / chemistry*
  • Protoporphyrins / chemistry*
  • Urinary Bladder / drug effects
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / drug therapy


  • Photosensitizing Agents
  • Protoporphyrins
  • Aminolevulinic Acid
  • protoporphyrin IX