Intraoperative detection of malignant gliomas by 5-aminolevulinic acid-induced porphyrin fluorescence

Neurosurgery. 1998 Mar;42(3):518-25; discussion 525-6. doi: 10.1097/00006123-199803000-00017.


Objective: Survival after surgery and radiotherapy for the treatment of malignant gliomas is linked to the completeness of tumor removal. Therefore, methods that permit intraoperative identification of residual tumor tissue may be of benefit. In a preliminary investigation, we have studied the value of fluorescent porphyrins that accumulate in malignant tissue after administration of a precursor (5-aminolevulinic acid) for labeling of malignant gliomas in nine patients.

Methods: Three hours before the induction of anesthesia, 10 mg 5-aminolevulinic acid/kg body weight was administered orally. Intraoperatively, red porphyrin fluorescence was observed with a 455-nm long-pass filter after excitation with violet-blue (375-440 nm) xenon light and was verified by analysis of fluorescence spectra. Fluorescing and nonfluorescing samples taken from the tumor perimeters were examined histologically or used to study the photobleaching of porphyrins by excitation light and white light from the operating microscope. Plasma and erythrocyte porphyrin levels were determined by fluorescence photometry.

Results: Normal brain tissue revealed no porphyrin fluorescence, whereas tumor tissue was distinguished by bright red fluorescence. For a total of 89 tissue biopsies, sensitivity was 85% and specificity was 100% for the detection of malignant tissue. For seven of nine patients, visible porphyrin fluorescence led to further resection of the tumor. Under operating light conditions, fluorescence decayed to 36% in 25 minutes for violet-blue light and in 87 minutes for white light. Plasma and erythrocyte porphyrin contents increased slightly, without exceeding normal levels.

Conclusion: Our observations suggest that 5-aminolevulinic acid-induced porphyrin fluorescence may label malignant gliomas safely and accurately enough to enhance the completeness of tumor removal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aminolevulinic Acid*
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Brain Neoplasms / surgery
  • Female
  • Fluorescence
  • Fluorometry
  • Glioma / diagnosis*
  • Glioma / metabolism*
  • Glioma / surgery
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Period
  • Lighting
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm, Residual / metabolism
  • Neoplasm, Residual / surgery
  • Porphyrins / metabolism*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Porphyrins
  • Aminolevulinic Acid