Dihematoporphyrin ether, also known as Photofrin-II (Pf-II) is currently used in the diagnosis and management of a variety of epithelial neoplasms, in a modality known as photodynamic therapy (PDT). A major drawback of these porphyrins for PDT is their ability to evoke prolonged cutaneous photosensitization. The mechanism of tumor ablation and cutaneous photosensitization by these photosensitizers is thought to relate to the generation of one or more reactive oxygen species such as superoxide anion, singlet oxygen and hydroxyl radical. However, the role of these oxygen species has not been established unequivocally. In this study, the mechanism of Pf-II-mediated cutaneous photosensitization was examined using murine ear swelling as a marker. The mice treated with Pf-II and light demonstrated two-fold enhancement of ear swelling whereas animals treated with the SOD mimic, β-carotene and dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) had considerably less ear swelling (p <0.01). The observed protective effect was dependent on the dose of each quencher and followed the pattern SOD mimic DMSO β-carotene. The histopathologic alterations caused by Pf-II photosensitization were significantly alleviated by pretreatment with SOD mimic whereas β-carotene and >DMSO> were less effective. Inhibitors of superoxide dismutase (sodium diethyldithiocarbamate) and catalase (hydroxyl amine and 3,amino 1,2,4 triazole) augmented Pf-II-mediated cutaneous photosensitization. These data provide the first in vivo evidence for the involvement of superoxide anion in cutaneous porphyrin photosensitization. © 1988 Academic Press, Inc.