The role of iron in infections with intracellular bacteria

Immunol Lett. 2003 Jan 22;85(2):193-5. doi: 10.1016/s0165-2478(02)00229-8.


The requirement for iron as a critical component for cellular processes has long been appreciated. During infection with intracellular bacteria, iron is required by both the host cell and the pathogen that inhabits the host cell. Macrophages require iron as a cofactor for the execution of important antimicrobial effector mechanisms, including the NADPH dependent oxidative burst and the production of nitrogen radicals catalysed by the inducible nitric oxide synthase. On the other side of the equation, intracellular bacteria such as Salmonella typhimurium and Mycobacterium tuberculosis have an obligate requirement for iron to support their growth and survival inside cells. This brief report summarises the background to our work on iron modulation in infections with these two organisms and highlights key observations on how modulation of host iron status disturbs the equilibrium between host and pathogen and can determine the outcome of infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Infections / metabolism*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / immunology*
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / parasitology*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / pathogenicity
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / physiology
  • Salmonella typhimurium / pathogenicity
  • Salmonella typhimurium / physiology


  • Iron