Photodynamic therapy (PDT), using 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) to drive synthesis of protoporphryin IX (PpIX) is a promising, scar-free alternative to surgery for skin cancers, including squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and SCC precursors called actinic keratoses (AK). In the United States, PDT is only FDA approved for treatment of AK; this narrow range of indications could be broadened if PDT efficacy were improved. Toward that goal, we developed a mechanism-based combination approach using 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) as a neoadjuvant for ALA-based PDT. In mouse models of SCC (orthotopic UV-induced lesions, and subcutaneous A431 and 4T1 tumors), pretreatment with 5-FU for 3 days followed by ALA for 4 hours led to large, tumor-selective increases in PpIX levels, and enhanced cell death upon illumination. Several mechanisms were identified that might explain the relatively improved therapeutic response. Firstly, the expression of key enzymes in the heme synthesis pathway was altered, including upregulated coproporphyrinogen oxidase and downregulated ferrochelatase. Secondly, a 3- to 6-fold induction of p53 in 5-FU pretreated tumors was noted. The fact that A431 contains a mutant form p53 did not prevent the development of a neoadjuvantal 5-FU effect. Furthermore, 5-FU pretreatment of 4T1 tumors (cells that completely lack p53), still led to significant beneficial inductions, i.e., 2.5-fold for both PpIX and PDT-induced cell death. Thus, neoadjuvantal 5-FU combined with PDT represents a new therapeutic approach that appears useful even for p53-mutant and p53-null tumors.
- Received September 12, 2016.
- Revision received March 15, 2017.
- Accepted March 15, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.