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The Journal of Experimental Biology


This study investigates the respiratory physiology of bioluminescent larvae of Pyrearinus termitilluminans in relation to their tolerance to hypoxia and hyperoxia and to the supply of oxygen for bioluminescence. The partial pressure of oxygen (P(O2)) was measured within the bioluminescent prothorax by in vivo electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) oximetry following acclimation of larvae to hypoxic, normoxic and hyperoxic (normobaric) atmospheres and during periods of bioluminescence (during normoxia). The P(O2) in the prothorax during exposure to an external P(O2) of 15.2, 160 and 760 mmHg was 10.3+/-2.6, 134+/-0.9 and 725+/-73 mmHg respectively (mean +/- s.d., N=5; 1 mmHg=0.1333 kPa). Oxygen supply to the larvae via gas exchange through the spiracles, measured by determining the rate of water loss, was also studied in the above atmospheres and was found not to be dependent upon P(O2). The data indicated that there is little to no active control of extracellular tissue P(O2) within the prothorax of these larvae. The reduction in prothorax P(O2) observed during either attack-response-provoked bioluminescence or sustained feeding-related bioluminescence in a normoxic atmosphere was variable, but fell within the range 10-25 mmHg. The effect of hypoxic atmospheres on bioluminescence was measured to estimate the intracellular P(O2) within the photocytes of the prothorax. Above a threshold value of 50-80 mmHg, bioluminescence was unaffected by P(O2). Below this threshold, an approximately linear relationship between P(O2) and bioluminescence was observed. Taken together with the extracellular P(O2) measurements, this suggests that control of P(O2) within the photocyte may occur. This work establishes that EPR oximetry is a valuable technique for long-term measurement of tissue P(O2) in insects and can provide valuable insights into their respiratory physiology. It also raises questions regarding the hypothesis that bioluminescence can have a significant antioxidative effect by reduction of prothorax P(O2 )through oxygen consumption.