Molecular enigma of multicolor bioluminescence of firefly luciferase

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2011 Apr;68(7):1167-82. doi: 10.1007/s00018-010-0607-0. Epub 2010 Dec 28.


Firefly luciferase-catalyzed reaction proceeds via the initial formation of an enzyme-bound luciferyl adenylate intermediate. The chemical origin of the color modulation in firefly bioluminescence has not been understood until recently. The presence of the same luciferin molecule, in combination with various mutated forms of luciferase, can emit light at slightly different wavelengths, ranging from red to yellow to green. A historical perspective of development in understanding of color emission mechanism is presented. To explain the variation in the color of the bioluminescence, different factors have been discussed and five hypotheses proposed for firefly bioluminescence color. On the basis of recent results, light-color modulation mechanism of firefly luciferase propose that the light emitter is the excited singlet state of OL(-) [(1)(OL(-))*], and light emission from (1)(OL(-))* is modulated by the polarity of the active-site environment at the phenol/phenolate terminal of the benzothiazole fragment in oxyluciferin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Color*
  • Fireflies / chemistry*
  • Firefly Luciferin / chemistry
  • Firefly Luciferin / metabolism
  • Light
  • Luciferases, Firefly / chemistry*
  • Luciferases, Firefly / metabolism
  • Luminescence*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Molecular Structure
  • Protein Conformation


  • Firefly Luciferin
  • Luciferases, Firefly