The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology vol:34 issue:3 pages:221-41
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) has been described as a promising new modality for the treatment of cancer. PDT involves the combination of a photosensitizing agent (photosensitizer), which is preferentially taken up and retained by tumor cells, and visible light of a wavelength matching the absorption spectrum of the drug. Each of these factors is harmless by itself, but when combined they ultimately produce, in the presence of oxygen, cytotoxic products that cause irreversible cellular damage and tumor destruction. Hypericin, a powerful naturally occurring photosensitizer, is found in Hypericum perforatum plants, commonly known as St. John's wort. In recent years increased interest in hypericin as a potential clinical anticancer agent has arisen since several studies established its powerful in vivo and in vitro antineoplastic activity upon irradiation. Investigations of the molecular mechanisms underlying hypericin photocytotoxicity in cancer cells have revealed that this photosensitizer can induce both apoptosis and necrosis in a concentration and light dose-dependent fashion. Moreover, PDT with hypericin results in the activation of multiple pathways that can either promote or counteract the cell death program. This review focuses on the more recent advances in the use of hypericin as a photodynamic agent and discusses the current knowledge on the signaling pathways underlying its photocytotoxic action.