Copper in microbial pathogenesis: meddling with the metal

Cell Host Microbe. 2012 Feb 16;11(2):106-15. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2012.01.009.


Transition metals such as iron, zinc, copper, and manganese are essential for the growth and development of organisms ranging from bacteria to mammals. Numerous studies have focused on the impact of iron availability during bacterial and fungal infections, and increasing evidence suggests that copper is also involved in microbial pathogenesis. Not only is copper an essential cofactor for specific microbial enzymes, but several recent studies also strongly suggest that copper is used to restrict pathogen growth in vivo. Here, we review evidence that animals use copper as an antimicrobial weapon and that, in turn, microbes have developed mechanisms to counteract the toxic effects of copper.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Infective Agents / toxicity
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Coenzymes / metabolism
  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Copper / toxicity
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Virulence


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Coenzymes
  • Copper