To characterize the microsources of bioluminescent activity in the dinoflagellate Gonyaulax polyedra, an immunogold labeling method using a polyclonal antiluciferase was combined with fast-freeze fixation and freeze substitution. The quality of the preservation and the specificity of the labeling were greatly improved compared to earlier results with chemical fixation. Two organelles were specifically labeled: cytoplasmic dense bodies with a finely vermiculate texture, and mature trichocysts, labeled in the space between the shaft and the membrane. The available evidence indicates that the dense bodies are the light-emitting microsources observed in vivo. The dense bodies appear to originate in the Golgi area as cytoplasmic densifications and, while migrating peripherally, come into contact with the vacuolar membrane. Mature organelles protrude and hang like drops in the vacuolar space, linked by narrow necks to the cytoplasm. These structural relationships, not previously apparent with glutaraldehyde fixation, suggest how bioluminescent flashes can be elicited by a proton influx from a triggering action potential propagated along the vacuolar membrane. Similar dense bodies were labeled in the active particulate biochemical fraction (the scintillons), where they were completely membrane bound, as expected if their necks were broken and resealed during extraction. The significance of the trichocyst reactivity remains enigmatic. Both organelles were labeled with affinity-purified antibody, which makes it unlikely that the trichocyst labeling is due to a second antibody of different specificity. But trichocysts are not bioluminescent; the cross-reacting material could be luciferase present in this compartment for some other reason, or a different protein carrying similar antigenic epitopes.

This content is only available as a PDF.