Cytoplasmic factors that affect the intensity and stability of bioluminescence from firefly luciferase in living mammalian cells.

Research paper by O O Gandelman, I I Allue, K K Bowers, P P Cobbold

Indexed on: 01 Nov '94Published on: 01 Nov '94Published in: Journal of bioluminescence and chemiluminescence


In order to improve calibration of firefly luciferase signals obtained by injecting the enzyme into single, isolated heart and liver cells we have investigated why the luminescence from cells is greatly depressed compared with in vitro (in mammalian ionic milieu) and why the decay of the intracellular signal is remarkably slow. We have shown that inorganic pyrophosphatase greatly depresses the signal in vitro and that micromolar concentrations of inorganic pyrophosphate, comparable with that in cytoplasm, reverse this inhibition and stabilize the signal, eliminating its decay. Higher concentrations of pyrophosphate depress the signal by inhibiting ATP-binding to luciferase. Luciferase-injected cells exposed to extracellular luciferin concentrations above about 100 mumol/l (corresponding to a cytoplasmic level of c. 5-10 mumol/l because of a transplasmalemmal gradient) show a gradual, irreversible loss of signal. We attribute this phenomenon (which is not seen in vitro) to the gradual accumulation of a luminescently inactive, irreversible, luciferase-oxyluciferin complex. At low luciferin levels this complex is prevented from forming by cytoplasmic pyrophosphate. Above c. 100 mumol/l extracellular luciferin, the pyrophosphate level in the cytoplasm fails to fully prevent the complex forming. In vitro this phenomenon does not occur because the luciferase concentrations and hence oxyluciferin levels are orders of magnitude lower than in cells injected with concentrated luciferase solutions, which have a cytoplasmic luciferase concentration of approximately 2-4 mumol/l.