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Int J Cancer. 2001 Apr 1;92(1):139-43.

On the pharmacokinetics of topically applied 5-aminolevulinic acid and two of its esters.

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Institute for Cancer Research, Oslo, Norway.


The kinetics of protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) production in normal tissues and WiDr tumors of mice were studied after topical application of 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) and its methyl ester and hexyl ester. ALA and ALA esters were applied on a spot of 1.0 cm diameter on normal skin and on skin overlaying tumors. PpIX production was studied by fluorescence measurements. ALA induced PpIX not only on the spot of application but also on remote skin areas. This was not found for the ALA esters. They produced PpIX only on the spot of application. Thus, ALA, but neither its esters nor PpIX, is passing into the circulation. The time needed for ALA to enter the circulation through normal skin was about 5 hr. Even when looking normal, the skin overlaying tumors was more permeable to ALA than normal skin. Thus, when applied on the tumor, ALA induced PpIX on remote skin areas without any lag phase. Mainly, PpIX was found in all tissues although small amounts of a porphyrin with an excitation peak at about 400 nm, supposedly uroporphyrin and/or coproporphyrin, were found, notably in remote skin areas. An altered stratum corneum of the skin overlaying tumors probably contributes to the tumor-selectivity, although in the present tumor system less PpIX was found in tumors than in muscles. This is probably related to biochemical and physiological conditions in this particular tumor, since i.p. injection of ALA also leads to less PpIX formation in the tumor than in skin/muscle tissue. Nevertheless, it seems evident that ALA can diffuse more easily from the skin surface and down to the vasculature in the tumor than in the normal tissue and that this leads to a higher concentration of PpIX in the tumor than would have been found if the physiological factors relevant for drug diffusion were the same for tumors as for skin/muscles.

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