Conjugated PDT drug: Photosensitizing activity and tissue distribution of PEGylated pheophorbide a

Valentina Rapozzi, Marina Zacchigna, Stefania Biffi, Chiara Garrovo, Francesca Cateni, Marco Stebel, Sonia Zorzet, Gian Maria Bonora, Sara Drioli, Luigi E. Xodo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The design of new photosensitizers with enhanced phototoxicity and pharmacokinetic properties remains a central challenge for cancer photodynamic therapy (PDT). In this study, pheophorbide a (Pba) has been pegylated to methoxypolyethylene glycol (mPEG-Pba) to produce a soluble photosensitizer that exhibits a higher tissue distribution than free pba. In vitro studies have shown that mPEG-Pba promotes a fairly strong photosensitizing effect in cancer cells, as previously observed for the unpegylated molecule. mPEG-Pba targets the mitochondria where, following photoactivation, ROS are produced which cause a cellular injury by lipid peroxidation. The effect of pegylation on the photosensitizer biodistribution has been examined in different selected organs of female mice, at different time points after intraperitoneal administration of the drug (50 μmol/Kg body weight). Other than free Pba, which showed a low tissue accumulation, mPEG-Pba has been detected in significant amounts (8 to 16 μg/ml) in liver, spleen, duodenum and kidney and, 3-5 hours after intraperitoneal injection, in moderate amounts (3 to 8 μg/ml) in brain and lung. In vivo optical imaging performed on living female C57/BL6 mice bearing a subcutaneous melanoma mass, showed that injected mPEG-Pba distributes all over the body, with an higher uptake in the tumor respect to free Pba. Our results indicate that although pegylation somewhat decreases the phototoxicity, it significantly increases the drug solubility and tissue distribution and tumor uptake of mPEG-Pba, making the conjugate an interesting photosensitizer for PDT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-482
Number of pages12
JournalCancer Biology and Therapy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 1 2010


  • Biodistribution
  • In vivo imaging
  • PDT
  • PEGylated pheophorbide a
  • Phototoxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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