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Bioessays. 2001 Nov;23(11):992-5.

Missing link in firefly bioluminescence revealed: NO regulation of photocyte respiration.

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Dept of Ecology and Evol. Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KN 66045, USA.


Sexual communication in most species of fireflies is a male-female dialogue of precisely timed flashes of bioluminescent light. The biochemical reactions underlying firefly bioluminescence have been known for 30 years and are now exploited in biomedical assays and other commercial applications. Several aspects of flash regulation are also understood: flash rhythm is controlled by a central pattern generator, and individual flashes are neurally triggered, with octopamine serving as the transmitter. The molecular oxygen needed by the biochemical reactants is delivered by a network of tracheal arborizations extending throughout the light organ (lantern). However, the actual means by which oxygen quickly reaches the reactants packaged within specialized photocytes and the specific event(s) triggered by neural action have not been identified; termination of axons away from the photocytes has exacerbated the latter problem. A recent paper by a consortium of cell and evolutionary biologists, however, reports that nitric oxide (NO), manufactured and released in response to neuronal discharge, is the missing link by which neural action in the firefly lantern yields a sudden flash of light.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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