Excited-State Proton Transfer in Oxyluciferin and Its Analogues

J Phys Chem Lett. 2020 May 7;11(9):3653-3659. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.0c00839. Epub 2020 Apr 24.


One of the most characterized bioluminescent reactions involves the firefly luciferase that catalyzes the oxidation of the luciferin producing oxyluciferin in its first excited state. While relaxing to the ground state, oxyluciferin emits visible light with an emission maximum that can vary from green to red. Oxyluciferin exists under six different chemical forms resulting from a keto/enol tautomerization and the deprotonation of the phenol or enol moieties. The optical properties of each chemical form have been recently characterized by the investigations of a variety of oxyluciferin derivatives, indicating unresolved excited-state proton transfer (ESPT) reactions. In this work, femtosecond pump-probe spectroscopy and time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy are used to investigate the picosecond kinetics of the ESPT reactions and demonstrate the excited state keto to enol conversion of oxyluciferin and its derivatives in aqueous buffer as a function of pH. A comprehensive photophysical scheme is provided describing the complex luminescence pathways of oxyluciferin in protic solution.