PURPOSE: To optimize conditions for photodynamic detection (PDD) and photodynamic therapy (PDT) of bladder carcinoma, urothelial accumulation of protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) and conditions leading to cell photodestruction were studied. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Porcine and human bladder mucosae were superfused with derivatives of 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA). PpIX accumulation and distribution across the mucosa was studied by microspectrofluorometry. Cell viability and structural integrity were assessed by using vital dyes and microscopy. RESULTS: ALA esters, especially hexyl-ALA, accelerated and regularized urothelial PpIX accumulation and allowed for necrosis upon illumination. CONCLUSIONS: hexyl-ALA used at micromolar concentrations is the most efficient PpIX precursor for PDD and PDT.