Administration of 5-aminolaevulinic acid (ALA) leads to porphyrin accumulation in malignant and premalignant tissues, and ALA is used as a prodrug in photodynamic therapy (PDT). To understand the mechanism of porphyrin accumulation after the administration of ALA and to investigate whether ALA-induced protoporphyrin IX might be a suitable photosensitizer in Barrett's oesophagus and adenocarcinoma, we determined the activities of porphobilinogen deaminase (PBG-D) and ferrochelatase (FC) in various malignant and premalignant as well as in normal tissues of the human oesophagus. A PDT power index for ALA-induced porphyrin accumulation, the ratio of PBG-D to FC normalized for the normal squamous epithelium of the oesophagus, was calculated to evaluate intertissue variation in the ability to accumulate porphyrins. In malignant and premalignant tissue a twofold increased PBG-D activity and a marginally increased FC activity was seen compared with normal squamous epithelium. A significantly increased PDT power index in Barrett's epithelium and adenocarcinoma was found. Our results suggest that, after the administration of ALA, porphyrins will accumulate in a greater amount in Barrett's epithelium and adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus because of an imbalance between PBG-D and FC activities. The PDT power index here defined might be a useful indicative parameter for predicting the susceptibility of these tissues to ALA-PDT.
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