Luciferin Regeneration in Firefly Bioluminescence via Proton-Transfer-Facilitated Hydrolysis, Condensation and Chiral Inversion.

Research paper by Yuan-Yuan YY Cheng, Ya-Jun YJ Liu

Indexed on: 13 Nov '19Published on: 16 May '19Published in: ChemPhysChem


Firefly bioluminescence is produced via luciferin enzymatic reactions in luciferase. Luciferin has to be unceasingly replenished to maintain bioluminescence. How is the luciferin reproduced after it has been exhausted? In the early 1970s, Okada proposed a hypothesis that the oxyluciferin produced by the previous bioluminescent reaction could be converted into new luciferin for the next bioluminescent reaction. To some extent, this hypothesis was evidenced by several detected intermediates. However, the detailed process and mechanism of luciferin regeneration remained largely unknown. For the first time, we investigated the entire process of luciferin regeneration in firefly bioluminescence by density functional theory calculations. This theoretical study suggested that luciferin regeneration consists of three sequential steps: the oxyluciferin produced from the last bioluminescent reaction generates 2-cyano-6-hydroxybenzothiazole (CHBT) in the luciferin regenerating enzyme (LRE) via a hydrolysis reaction; CHBT combines with L-cysteine in vivo to form L-luciferin via a condensation reaction; and L-luciferin inverts into D-luciferin in luciferase and thioesterase. The presently proposed mechanism not only supports the sporadic evidence from previous experiments but also clearly describes the complete process of luciferin regeneration. This work is of great significance for understanding the long-term flashing of fireflies without an in vitro energy supply. © 2019 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.