The success of insects arises partly from extraordinary biochemical and physiological specializations. For example, most species lack glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase and respiratory-gas transport proteins and thus allow oxygen to diffuse directly into cells. To counter the increased potential for oxidative damage, insect tissues rely on the indirect protection of the thioredoxin reductase pathway to maintain redox homoeostasis. Such specializations must impact on the control of reactive oxygen species and free radicals such as the signalling molecule NO. This chapter focuses on NO signalling in the insect central nervous system and in the light-producing lantern of the firefly. It is shown that neural NO production is coupled to both muscarinic and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. The NO-mediated increase in cGMP evokes changes in spike activity of neurons controlling the gut and body wall musculature. In addition, maps of NO-producing and -responsive neurons make insects useful models for establishing the range and specificity of NO's actions in the central nervous system. The firefly lantern also provides insight into the interplay of tissue anatomy and cellular biochemistry in NO signalling. In the lantern, nitric oxide synthase is expressed in tracheal end cells that are interposed between neuron terminals and photocytes. Exogenous NO can activate light production and NO scavengers block evoked flashes. NO inhibits respiration in isolated lantern mitochondria and this can be reversed by bright light. It is proposed that NO controls flashes by transiently inhibiting oxygen consumption and permitting direct oxidation of activated luciferin. It is possible that light production itself contributes to the restoration of mitochondrial activity and consequent cessation of the flash.
- © 2004 The Biochemical Society