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Serge Marbacher, Elisabeth Klinger, Lucia Schwyzer, Ingeborg Fischer, Edin Nevzati, Michael Diepers, Ulrich Roelcke, Ali-Reza Fathi, Daniel Coluccia and Javier Fandino


The accurate discrimination between tumor and normal tissue is crucial for determining how much to resect and therefore for the clinical outcome of patients with brain tumors. In recent years, guidance with 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA)–induced intraoperative fluorescence has proven to be a useful surgical adjunct for gross-total resection of high-grade gliomas. The clinical utility of 5-ALA in resection of brain tumors other than glioblastomas has not yet been established. The authors assessed the frequency of positive 5-ALA fluorescence in a cohort of patients with primary brain tumors and metastases.


The authors conducted a single-center retrospective analysis of 531 patients with intracranial tumors treated by 5-ALA–guided resection or biopsy. They analyzed patient characteristics, preoperative and postoperative liver function test results, intraoperative tumor fluorescence, and histological data. They also screened discharge summaries for clinical adverse effects resulting from the administration of 5-ALA. Intraoperative qualitative 5-ALA fluorescence (none, mild, moderate, and strong) was documented by the surgeon and dichotomized into negative and positive fluorescence.


A total of 458 cases qualified for final analysis. The highest percentage of 5-ALA–positive fluorescence in open resection was found in glioblastomas (96%, n = 99/103). Among other tumors, 5-ALA–positive fluorescence was detected in 88% (n = 21/32) of anaplastic gliomas (WHO Grade III), 40% (n = 8/19) of low-grade gliomas (WHO Grade II), no (n = 0/3) WHO Grade I gliomas, and 77% (n = 85/110) of meningiomas. Among metastases, the highest percentage of 5-ALA–positive fluorescence was detected in adenocarcinomas (48%, n = 13/27). Low rates or absence of positive fluorescence was found among pituitary adenomas (8%, n = 1/12) and schwannomas (0%, n = 0/7). Biopsies of high-grade primary brain tumors showed positive rates of fluorescence similar to those recorded for open resection. No clinical adverse effects associated with use of 5-ALA were observed. Only 1 patient had clinically silent transient elevation of liver enzymes.


Study findings suggest that the administration of 5-ALA as a surgical adjunct for resection and biopsy of primary brain tumors and brain metastases is safe. In light of the high rate of positive fluorescence in high-grade gliomas other than glioblastomas, meningiomas, and a variety of metastatic cancers, 5-ALA seems to be a promising tool for enhancing intraoperative identification of neoplastic tissue and optimizing the extent of resection.