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J Photochem Photobiol B. 1992 Jun 30;14(1-2):3-22.

The evolution of photochemotherapy with psoralens and UVA (PUVA): 2000 BC to 1992 AD.

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Department of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School, Masschusetts General Hospital, Boston 02114.


The therapeutic uses of naturally occurring psoralens in modern-day medicine (8-methoxypsoralen (8-MOP), 5-methoxypsoralen (5-MOP), 4,5',8-trimethylpsoralen, and a few other synthetic psoralens) have evolved through five stages of development. (1) In the historical period (2000 BC to 1930 AD), the pigment-stimulating properties of naturally occurring plants containing psoralens were described anecdotally. (2) The second period (1930-1960) dealing with the chemistry of psoralens involved extraction, identification of their structure, synthesis, and the relationship between chemical structure and their photoreactivity and pigment-stimulating properties. The treatment of vitiligo with oral and topical 8-MOP became popular. (3) In the third period (1960-1974), we witnessed a new beginning and the growth of basic science studies and clinical investigations into various biological properties of psoralens including action spectrum studies, mutagenesis and carcinogenesis studies, in vitro and in vivo photoreactivity studies of various psoralens with DNA, RNA, proteins, and pharmacological and toxicological studies in vitiligo patients undergoing long-term therapy for repigmentation. (4) The fourth period (1974-1988) is recognized as the period of photochemotherapy and the development of the science of photomedicine which established the therapeutic effectiveness of psoralens in combination with newly developed UV irradiation systems that emitted high-intensity UVA radiation in the treatment of severe psoriasis, mycosis fungoides, and over 16 other skin diseases. The effectiveness of PUVA (psoralen + UVA) was confirmed by well controlled clinical trials in thousands of patients, both in the USA and in European countries. Combination therapy with oral retinoids and PUVA contributed to greater effectiveness and long-term safety of psoralen photochemotherapy. (5) In the fifth period (1989 and beyond), psoralens are now emerging as photochemoprotective agents against non-melanoma skin cancers and as immunologic modifiers in the management of certain patients with disorders of circulating T-cells using new techniques of photopheresis. In the final analysis, perhaps the application of pharmacological and therapeutic concepts and principles of using psoralens in combination with UVA has contributed to the development of a new science of photomedicine in which the interaction between basic scientists, photobiologists, and physicians has produced both basic and new clinical knowledge for the care and control of human suffering.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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