A series of monomeric porphyrins (2-8) based on porphyrin C (1) have been tested as sensitisers for photodynamic therapy (PDT) of cerebral glioma using the in vitro/in vivo C6 intracerebral animal tumour model. The in vivo screening, consisting of cytotoxicity, phototoxicity (red light) and subcellular localisation studies, revealed two sensitisers (porphyrin 7, molecular weight 863 Da and porphyrin 8, molecular weight 889 Da), which had greater photoactivity than porphyrin C and similar photoactivity to haematoporphyrin derivative (HpD) although at a 5-fold higher dose than HpD. Both sensitisers showed intracellular localisation to discrete organelle sites and exhibited considerably less 'dark' cytotoxicity than HpD. The kinetics of uptake of porphyrins 7 and 8 was studied in the mouse C6 glioma model as well as in biopsy samples from normal brain, liver, spleen and blood. Maximal drug uptake levels in tumour occurred 9 and 6 h after intraperitoneal injection for 7 and 8 respectively, at which time the tumour to normal brain ratios were 15:1 and 13:1 respectively. The effect of PDT using porphyrin 7 activated by the gold metal vapour laser tuned to 627.8 nm was studied in Wistar rats bearing intracerebral C6 glioma. At a drug dose of 10 mg porphyrin 7 kg-1 body weight and laser doses of up to 400 J cm-2 light, selective tumour kill with sparing of normal brain was achieved, with a maximal depth of tumour kill of 1.77+/-0.40. mm. Irradiation following a higher drug dose of 75 mg porphyrin 7 kg-1 body weight resulted in a greater depth of tumour kill, but also significantly increased the likelihood and extent of necrosis in normal brain.