Journal of comparative physiology

, Volume 129, Issue 1, pp 67–78 | Cite as

Electrophysiology of bioluminescent excitable epithelial cells in a polynoid polychaete worm

  • Albert A. Herrera


  1. 1.

    An electrophysiological study was made of the bioluminescent epithelial cells (photocytes) of the wormHesperonoe complanata (Polychaeta: Polynoidae.)

  2. 2.

    Resting photocyte membrane potential is −72±2 (s.d.) mV and decreases by 55 mV as external K concentration is increased from 10 to 100 mM.

  3. 3.

    Depolarization activates two separate regenerative inward currents, both resulting in all-or-none action potentials. The action potential with the lower threshold has an amplitude of 43±4 (s.d.) mV, is Na-dependent but tetrodotoxin-insensitive and is not associated with luminescence. The action potential with the higher threshold overshoots the reference potential by 13±6 (s.d.) mV, increases by 29 mV for a tenfold increase in Ca concentration and persists in Na-free solution. Under some conditions this spike is followed by a low conductance, Ca-dependent depolarized plateau which abruptly terminates after 274±17 (s.d.) s.

  4. 4.

    Luminescence accompanies each Ca spike. Reducing Ca influx reduces light emission. Depolarization in Ca-free medium does not produce light. It is therefore concluded that the intracellular light producing mechanism is Ca-activated and that Ca ions mediate excitation-luminescence coupling.

  5. 5.

    Photocytes receive direct excitatory innervation. Large depolarizing postsynaptic potentials occur upon nerve stimulation.

  6. 6.

    These electrical properties adequately explain in vivo bioluminescence.



Epithelial Cell Membrane Potential Lower Threshold Nerve Stimulation Polychaeta 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Albert A. Herrera
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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