Molecular strategies of microbial iron assimilation: from high-affinity complexes to cofactor assembly systems

Metallomics. 2013 Jan;5(1):15-28. doi: 10.1039/c2mt20193c.


Microorganisms have to cope with restricted iron bioavailability in most environmental habitats as well as during host colonization. The continuous struggle for iron has brought forth a plethora of acquisition and assimilation strategies that share several functional and mechanistic principles. One common theme is the utilization of high-affinity chelators for extracellular iron mobilization, generally known as siderophore-dependent iron acquisition. This basic strategy is related with another central aspect of microbial iron acquisition, which is the release of the mobilized iron from extracellular sources to allow its transfer and incorporation into metabolically active proteins. A variety of mechanisms which are often coupled with high-affinity uptake have evolved to facilitate the removal of iron from siderophore ligands; however, they differ in many key aspects including substrate specificities and release efficiencies. The most sophisticated iron release pathways comprise processes of specific hydrolysis and reduction of ferric siderophores, especially in the case of high-affinity iron complexes with greatly negative redox potentials that often represent crucial factors for virulence development in bacterial and fungal pathogens. During the following steps of iron utilization, the acquired metal is transferred through intracellular trafficking pathways which may include diverse storage compartments in order to be directed to cofactor assembly systems and to final protein targeting. Several of these iron channeling routes have been described recently and provide first insights into the later steps of iron assimilation that characterize an essential part of the cellular iron homeostasis network.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / chemistry
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism
  • Fungi / chemistry
  • Fungi / metabolism*
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Siderophores / chemistry
  • Siderophores / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Fungal Proteins
  • Siderophores
  • Iron