Background Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is known as a minimally invasive treatment for cancer. 5-Aminolevulinic acid (ALA) is a precursor of the photosensitizing agent protoporphyrin IX (PpIX). Patients with ovarian clear-cell carcinoma (CCC) have poorer prognoses than those of patients with other histological CCC types. We evaluated the efficacy of ALA-PDT on CCC cells in vitro. Methods We used seven human CCC cell lines to measure the cytotoxicity of ALA-PDT. PpIX production in cancer cells was measured using a micro-plate reader. Quantitative real-time PCR was performed to assess the mRNA levels of genes involved in the accumulation of PpIX in cancer cells. Additionally, we measured the enhancement in cytotoxicity with the use of an ABCG2 inhibitor. Results We found that three cell lines were highly sensitive to ALA-PDT. In contrast, one cell line was resistant to ALA-PDT. The cytotoxicity of ALA-PDT varied among CCC cell lines. The IC50 values of ALA-PDT for the CCC cell lines had a wide range (30–882 μM). The cytotoxicity of ALA-PDT was correlated with the intracellular PpIX accumulation. The cell lines sensitive to ALA-PDT expressed PEPT1 (an ALA uptake transporter). The cell line resistant to ALA-PDT expressed ABCG2 (a PpIX export transporter). In the resistant cell line, a combination treatment with both ALA and an ABCG2 inhibitor resulted in the promotion of cytotoxic sensitivity. Conclusion The present study revealed the efficacy of ALA-PDT against CCC with chemoresistance in vitro.
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