The value of visible 5-ALA fluorescence and quantitative protoporphyrin IX analysis for improved surgery of suspected low-grade gliomas

Georg Widhalm, Jonathan Olson, Jonathan Weller, Jaime Bravo, Seunggu J. Han, Joanna Phillips, Shawn L. Hervey-Jumper, Susan M. Chang, David W. Roberts, Mitchel S. Berger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE In patients with suspected diffusely infiltrating low-grade gliomas (LGG), the prognosis is dependent especially on extent of resection and precision of tissue sampling. Unfortunately, visible 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) fluorescence is usually only present in high-grade gliomas (HGGs), and most LGGs cannot be visualized. Recently, spectroscopic probes were introduced allowing in vivo quantitative analysis of intratumoral 5-ALA-induced protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) accumulation. The aim of this study was to intraoperatively investigate the value of visible 5-ALA fluorescence and quantitative PpIX analysis in suspected diffusely infiltrating LGG. METHODS Patients with radiologically suspected diffusely infiltrating LGG were prospectively recruited, and 5-ALA was preoperatively administered. During resection, visual fluorescence and absolute tissue PpIX concentration (CPpIX) measured by a spectroscopic handheld probe were determined in different intratumoral areas. Subsequently, corresponding tissue samples were safely collected for histopathological analysis. Tumor diagnosis was established according to the World Health Organization 2016 criteria. Additionally, the tumor grade and percentage of tumor cells were investigated in each sample. RESULTS All together, 69 samples were collected from 22 patients with histopathologically confirmed diffusely infiltrating glioma. Visible fluorescence was detected in focal areas in most HGGs (79%), but in none of the 8 LGGs. The mean CPpIX was significantly higher in fluorescing samples than in nonfluorescing samples (0.693 ìg/ml and 0.008 ìg/ml, respectively; p < 0.001). A significantly higher mean percentage of tumor cells was found in samples with visible fluorescence compared to samples with no fluorescence (62% and 34%, respectively; p = 0.005), and significant correlation of CPpIX and percentage of tumor cells was found (r = 0.362, p = 0.002). Moreover, high-grade histology was significantly more common in fluorescing samples than in nonfluorescing samples (p = 0.001), whereas no statistically significant difference in mean CPpIX was noted between HGG and LGG samples. Correlation between maximum CPpIX and overall tumor grade was highly significant (p = 0.005). Finally, 14 (40%) of 35 tumor samples with no visible fluorescence and 16 (50%) of 32 LGG samples showed significantly increased CPpIX (cutoff value: 0.005 μg/ml). CONCLUSIONS Visible 5-ALA fluorescence is able to detect focal intratumoral areas of malignant transformation, and additional quantitative PpIX analysis is especially useful to visualize mainly LGG tissue that usually remains undetected by conventional fluorescence. Thus, both techniques will support the neurosurgeon in achieving maximal safe resection and increased precision of tissue sampling during surgery for suspected LGG.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-88
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • Anaplastic foci
  • Oncology
  • PpIX analysis
  • Suspected LGG
  • Tumor visualization
  • Visible fluorescence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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