Iron starvation is one of the major barriers that virulent bacteria must overcome in order to proliferate in the host. Virtually all microorganisms possess high affinity iron (III) transport systems mediated by low molecular weight iron specific chelators called siderophores, the synthesis of which is activated under iron-limiting conditions. Siderophore aerobactin is frequently produced by enterobacteria which cause various types of infections in humans and animals. The status of aerobactin production as a virulence factor is evaluated both from data derived from experimental infection systems and the actual presence of this siderophore in clinical isolates. Aerobactin appears to be an important contributor to extracellular pathogenesis (mostly, that of Escherichia coli strains causing septicaemia and urinary tract infections) and to the extracellular stages of growth of intracellular pathogens like Shigella. When invasive bacteria actually enter target cells, acquisition of iron seems to occur independently of siderophore production. The feasibility of an antimicrobial therapy aimed at interfering with siderophore functioning is discussed.