Adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATL) is an aggressive T-cell neoplasm caused by human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I). Therapeutic interventions have not been associated with satisfactory outcomes. We showed that the porphyrin metabolic pathway preferentially accumulates the endogenous photosensitive metabolite, protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) in ATL, after a short-term culture with 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA). PpIX accumulated 10–100-fold more in ATL leukemic cells when compared to healthy peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). Patient specimens showed dynamic changes in flow cytometry profiles during the onset and progression of ATL. Furthermore, 98.7% of ATL leukemic cell death in the ATL patient specimens could be induced with 10 min of visible light exposure, while 77.5% of normal PBMCs survived. Metabolomics analyses revealed that a specific stage of the metabolic pathway progressively deteriorated with HTLV-I infection and at the onset of ATL. Therefore, this method will be useful in diagnosing and identifying high-risk HTLV-I carriers with single cell resolutions. Photodynamic therapy in the circulatory system may be a potential treatment due to its highly-specific, non-invasive, safe, simultaneous, and repeatedly-treatable modalities.
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