Yellow-green and red firefly bioluminescence from 5,5-dimethyloxyluciferin.
Beetle luciferases (including those of the firefly) use the same luciferin substrate to naturally display light ranging in color from green (lambda(max) similar 530 nm) to red (lambda(max) similar 635 nm). The original mechanism of bioluminescence color determination advanced by White and co-workers was based on the concept that the keto and enol tautomers of the emitter oxyluciferin produce red and green light, respectively. Alternatively, McCapra proposed that color variation is associated with conformations of the keto form of excited-state oxyluciferin. We have prepared the adenylate of D-5,5-dimethylluciferin and shown that it is transformed into the putative emitter 5,5-dimethyloxyluciferin in bioluminescence reactions catalyzed by luciferases from Photinus pyralis and the green-emitting click beetle. 5,5-Dimethyloxyluciferin is constrained to exist in the keto form and fluoresces in the red. However, bioluminescence spectra revealed that green light emission was produced by the firefly enzyme and red light was observed with the click beetle protein. These results, augmented with steady-state kinetic studies, may be taken as the first experimental support for McCapra's mechanism of firefly bioluminescence color or any other proposal that requires only a single keto form of oxyluciferin.