Bacterial iron detoxification at the molecular level

J Biol Chem. 2020 Oct 12;jbc.REV120.007746. doi: 10.1074/jbc.REV120.007746. Online ahead of print.


Iron is an essential micro-nutrient and, in the case of bacteria, its availability is commonly a growth-limiting factor. However, correct functioning of cells requires that the labile pool of chelatable 'free' iron is tightly regulated. Correct metalation of proteins requiring iron as a cofactor demands that such a readily accessible source of iron exists, but over-accumulation results in an oxidative burden that, if unchecked, would lead to cell death. The toxicity of iron stems from its potential to catalyze formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that, in addition to causing damage to biological molecules, can also lead to the formation of reactive nitrogen species (RNS). In order to avoid iron-mediated oxidative stress, bacteria utilize iron-dependent global regulators to sense the iron status of the cell and regulate the expression of proteins involved in the acquisition, storage and efflux of iron accordingly. Here, we survey the current understanding of the structure and mechanism of the important members of each of these classes of protein. Diversity in the details of iron homeostasis mechanisms reflect the differing nutritional stresses resulting from the wide variety of ecological niches that bacteria inhabit. However, in this review we seek to highlight the similarities of iron homeostasis between different bacteria, whilst acknowledging important variations. In this way we hope to illustrate how bacteria have evolved common approaches to overcome the dual problems of the insolubility and potential toxicity of iron.

Keywords: ferritin; gene regulation; iron; iron metabolism; reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Publication types

  • Review