Pyropheophorbide-a methyl ester (PPME) is a second generation of photosensitizers used in photodynamic therapy. We demonstrated that PPME photosensitization activated NF-κB transcription factor in colon cancer cells. Unexpectedly, this activation occurred in two separate waves, i.e. a rapid and transient one and a second slower but sustained phase. The former was due to photosensitization by PPME localized in the cytoplasmic membrane which triggered interleukin-1 receptor internalization and the transduction pathways controlled by the interleukin-1 type I receptor. Indeed, TRAF6 dominant negative mutant abolished NF-κB activation by PPME photosensitization, and TRAF2 dominant negative mutant was without any effect, and overexpression of IκB kinases increased gene transcription controlled by NF-κB. Oxidative stress was not likely involved in the activation. On the other hand, the slower and sustained wave could be the product of the release of ceramide through activation of the acidic sphingomyelinase. PPME localization within the lysosomal membrane could explain why ceramide acted as second messenger in NF-κB activation by PPME photosensitization. These data will allow a better understanding of the molecular basis of tumor eradication by photodynamic therapy, in particular the importance of the host cell response in the treatment.
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