A luciferin-binding protein (LBP), which binds and protects from autoxidation the substrate of the circadian bioluminescent reaction of Gonyaulax polyedra, has been purified to near homogeneity. The purified protein is a dimer with two identical 72-kDa subunits, and an isoelectric point of 6.7. LBP is a major component of the cells, comprising about 1% of the total protein during the night phase, but drops to only about 0.1% during the day. The luciferin is protected from autoxidation by binding to LBP, and one luciferin is bound per dimer at alkaline pH (Ka approximately 5 x 10(7) M-1). The protein undergoes a conformational change with release of luciferin at pH values below 7, concurrent with an activation of Gonyaulax luciferase. LBP thus has a dual role in the circadian bioluminescent system.