Bacterial iron sources: from siderophores to hemophores

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2004;58:611-47. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.58.030603.123811.


Iron is an essential element for most organisms, including bacteria. The oxidized form is insoluble, and the reduced form is highly toxic for most macromolecules and, in biological systems, is generally sequestrated by iron- and heme-carrier proteins. Thus, despite its abundance on earth, there is practically no free iron available for bacteria whatever biotope they colonize. To fulfill their iron needs, bacteria have multiple iron acquisition systems, reflecting the diversity of their potential biotopes. The iron/heme acquisition systems in bacteria have one of two general mechanisms. The first involves direct contact between the bacterium and the exogenous iron/heme sources. The second mechanism relies on molecules (siderophores and hemophores) synthesized and released by bacteria into the extracellular medium; these molecules scavenge iron or heme from various sources. Recent genetic, biochemical, and crystallographic studies have allowed substantial progress in describing molecular mechanisms of siderophore and hemophore interactions with the outer membrane receptors, transport through the inner membrane, iron storage, and regulation of genes encoding biosynthesis and uptake proteins.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Heme / metabolism*
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Molecular
  • Siderophores / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Siderophores
  • tonB protein, Bacteria
  • Heme
  • Iron