Iron metabolism in pathogenic bacteria

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2000;54:881-941. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.54.1.881.


The ability of pathogens to obtain iron from transferrins, ferritin, hemoglobin, and other iron-containing proteins of their host is central to whether they live or die. To combat invading bacteria, animals go into an iron-withholding mode and also use a protein (Nramp1) to generate reactive oxygen species in an attempt to kill the pathogens. Some invading bacteria respond by producing specific iron chelators-siderophores-that remove the iron from the host sources. Other bacteria rely on direct contact with host iron proteins, either abstracting the iron at their surface or, as with heme, taking it up into the cytoplasm. The expression of a large number of genes (>40 in some cases) is directly controlled by the prevailing intracellular concentration of Fe(II) via its complexing to a regulatory protein (the Fur protein or equivalent). In this way, the biochemistry of the bacterial cell can accommodate the challenges from the host. Agents that interfere with bacterial iron metabolism may prove extremely valuable for chemotherapy of diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Biological Transport
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cation Transport Proteins*
  • Ferric Compounds / metabolism
  • Hemeproteins / metabolism
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Siderophores / metabolism
  • Transferrin / metabolism


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Ferric Compounds
  • Hemeproteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Siderophores
  • Transferrin
  • natural resistance-associated macrophage protein 1
  • Iron