Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an experimental treatment modality for (pre)malignant oesophageal lesions. 5- Aminolevulinic acid (ALA)-induced, protoporphyrin IX (PpIX)- mediated photo-sensitization could be very useful as ALA- induced porphrin accumulation selectively occurs in the oesophageal epithelium. The present study aimed to optimize the time between illumination and the administration of ALA. 200 mg/kg ALA was given orally to 24 rats (allocated to 6 groups of 4 animals each). Four animals served as controls and received phosphate buffered saline orally. The animals were illuminated at various time-points (either 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, or 12 hours) after ALA administration. Illumination was performed with a cylindrical diffuser placed in a balloon catheter. The device was originally made for percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty and consisted of a semi-flexible catheter and an inflatable cylindric optically clear balloon. The diffuser was placed centrally in the catheter. The same illumination parameters (633 nm, 25 J radiant energy/cm diffuser, power output 100 mW/cm diffuser) were used for each animal. During illumination, fluorescence measurements and light dosimetry were performed. The animals were sacrificed at 48 hours after PDT for histological assessment. Highest PpIX fluorescence was found at 2, 3, and 4 hours after ALA administration. Dosimetric measurements showed a 2 - 3 times higher in vivo fluence rate compared to the estimated fluence rate. Histology at 48 hours after PDT showed diffuse epithelial damage at the laser site only in rats illuminated at 2 hours after ALA administration. Illumination at 3, 4, and 6 hours after ALA administration resulted in diffuse epithelial damage in only one of four rats. In none of the rats illuminated at 1 and 12 hours after administration of ALA epithelial damage was found. These results show that illumination at 2 hours after oral ALA administration provides an efficient and safe scheme for ALA-PDT in the normal rat oesophagus. Illumination at other time points results in incomplete epithelial damage.