Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a cancer treatment modality utilizing a photosensitizer, light and oxygen. Photodynamic therapy with Photofrin® has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of advanced esophageal and early lung cancer. Because of certain drawbacks associated with the use of Photofrin, there is a need to identify new photosensitizers for human use. The photosensitizer Pc 4 (HOSiPc-OSi[CH3]2[CH2]3N[CH 3]2) has yielded promising PDT effects in many in vitro and in vivo systems. The aim of this study was to assess the usefulness of Pc 4 as a PDT photosensitizer for a human tumor grown as a xenograft in athymic nude mice. The ovarian epithelial carcinoma (OVCAR-3) was heterotransplanted subcutaneously in athymic nude mice. Sixty mice bearing OVCAR-3 tumors (∼80-130 mm3) were divided into six groups of 10 animals each, three for controls and three for treatment. The Pc 4 was given by tail vein injection, and 48 h later a 1 cm area encompassing the tumor was irradiated with light from a diode laser coupled to a fiberoptic terminating in a microlens (λ = 672 nm, 150 J/cm2, 150 mW/cm2). Tumors of control animals receiving no treatment, light alone or Pc 4 alone continued to grow. Of animals receiving 0.4 mg/kg Pc 4 and light, one (10%) had a complete response and was cured (no regrowth up to 90 days post-PDT), while all others (90%) had a partial response and were delayed in regrowth. Of animals receiving 0.6 mg/kg Pc 4 and light, eight (80%) had a complete response, and two of these were cured. Of animals receiving 1.0 mg/kg Pc 4 and light, six (60%) had a complete response, and two of these were cured. In additional experiments, tumors from animals treated with Pc 4 (1 mg/ kg) and light were removed 15, 30, 60 and 180 min post-PDT, and from these tumors DNA and protein were extracted. Agarose gel electrophoresis revealed the presence of apoptotic DNA fragmentation as early as 15 min post-PDT. Western blotting showed the cleavage of the 116 kDa native poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) into fragments of ∼90 kDa, another indication of apoptosis, and the presence of p21/WAF1/CIP1 (p21) in all PDT-treated tumors. These changes did not occur in control tumors. Pc 4 appears to be an effective photosensitizer for PDT of human tumors grown as xenografts in nude mice. Early apoptosis, as revealed by PARP cleavage, DNA fragmentation and p21 overexpression, may be responsible for the excellent Pc 4-PDT response. Clinical trials of Pc 4-PDT are warranted.