Transferrins and heme-compounds as iron sources for pathogenic bacteria

Crit Rev Microbiol. 1992;18(3):217-33. doi: 10.3109/10408419209114559.


The low concentration of free iron in body fluids creates bacteriostatic conditions for many microorganisms and is therefore an important defense factor of the body against invading bacteria. Pathogenic bacteria have developed several mechanisms for acquiring iron from the host. Siderophore-mediated iron uptake involves the synthesis of low molecular weight iron chelators called siderophores which compete with the host iron-binding glycoproteins lactoferrin (LF) and transferrin (TF) for iron. Other ways to induce iron uptake, without the mediation of siderophores, are the possession of outer membrane protein receptors that actually recognize the complex of TF or LF with iron, resulting in the internalization of this metal, and the use of heme-compounds released into the circulation after lysis of erythrocytes. In this review, the nonsiderophore-mediated iron-uptake systems used by certain pathogenic bacteria are emphasized. The possible contribution of these iron-uptake systems to the virulence of pathogens is also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Bacteroides fragilis / metabolism
  • Haemophilus influenzae / metabolism
  • Hemeproteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ionophores / metabolism
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron Chelating Agents / metabolism
  • Neisseria / metabolism
  • Shigella / metabolism
  • Siderophores
  • Transferrin / metabolism*
  • Vibrio / metabolism


  • Hemeproteins
  • Ionophores
  • Iron Chelating Agents
  • Siderophores
  • Transferrin
  • Iron