In a model of nude mice bearing a human colon carcinoma xenograft, the biodistribution and tumor localization of metatetrahydroxyphenylchlorin (m-THPC) coupled to polyethylene glycol (PEG) were compared with those of the free form of this photosensitizer used in photodynamic therapy (PDT). At different times after i.v. injection of both forms of 125I-labeled photosensitizer, m-THPC-PEG gave on av. a 2-fold higher tumor uptake than free m-THPC. In addn., at early times after injection, m-THPC-PEG showed a 2-fold longer blood circulating half-life and a 4-fold lower liver uptake than free m-THPC. The tumor to normal tissue ratios of radioactivity concns. were always higher for m-THPC-PEG than for free m-THPC at any time point studied from 2 to 96 h post-injection. Significant coeffs. of correlation between direct fluorescence measurements and radioactivity counting were obtained within each organ tested. Fluorescence microscopy studies showed that m-THPC-PEG was preferentially localized near the tumor vessels, whereas m-THPC was more diffusely distributed inside the tumor tissue. To verify whether m-THPC-PEG conjugate remained phototoxic in vivo, PDT expts. were performed 72 h after injection and showed that m-THPC-PEG was as potent as free m-THPC in the induction of tumor regression provided that the irradn. dose for m-THPC-PEG conjugate was adapted to a well-tolerated 2-fold higher level. The overall results demonstrate first the possibility of improving the in vivo tumor localization of a hydrophobic dye used for PDT by coupling it to PEG and second that a photosensitizer conjugated to a macromol. can remain phototoxic in vivo.