Iron and copper metabolism

Mol Aspects Med. 2005 Aug-Oct;26(4-5):313-27. doi: 10.1016/j.mam.2005.07.010.


Iron and copper are essential nutrients, excesses or deficiencies of which cause impaired cellular functions and eventually cell death. The metabolic fates of copper and iron are intimately related. Systemic copper deficiency generates cellular iron deficiency, which in humans results in diminished work capacity, reduced intellectual capacity, diminished growth, alterations in bone mineralization, and diminished immune response. Copper is required for the function of over 30 proteins, including superoxide dismutase, ceruloplasmin, lysyl oxidase, cytochrome c oxidase, tyrosinase and dopamine-beta-hydroxylase. Iron is similarly required in numerous essential proteins, such as the heme-containing proteins, electron transport chain and microsomal electron transport proteins, and iron-sulfur proteins and enzymes such as ribonucleotide reductase, prolyl hydroxylase phenylalanine hydroxylase, tyrosine hydroxylase and aconitase. The essentiality of iron and copper resides in their capacity to participate in one-electron exchange reactions. However, the same property that makes them essential also generates free radicals that can be seriously deleterious to cells. Thus, these seemingly paradoxical properties of iron and copper demand a concerted regulation of cellular copper and iron levels. Here we review the most salient characteristics of their homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Copper / chemistry
  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Iron / chemistry
  • Iron / metabolism*


  • Copper
  • Iron