Molybdenum: an essential trace element

Nutr Clin Pract. 1993 Dec;8(6):277-81. doi: 10.1177/0115426593008006277.


Molybdenum is found in most foods, with legumes, dairy products, and meats being the richest sources. This metal is considered essential because it is part of a complex called molybdenum cofactor that is required for the three mammalian enzymes xanthine oxidase (XO), aldehyde oxidase (AO), and sulfite oxidase (SO). XO participates in the metabolism of purines, AO catalyzes the conversion of aldehydes to acids, and SO is involved in the metabolism of sulfur-containing amino acids. Molybdenum deficiency is not found in free-living humans, but deficiency is reported in a patient receiving prolonged total parenteral nutrition with clinical signs characterized by tachycardia, headache, mental disturbances, and coma. The biochemical abnormalities in this acquired molybdenum deficiency include very low levels of uric acid in serum and urine (low XO activity) and low inorganic sulfate levels in urine (low SO activity). Inborn errors of isolated deficiencies of XO, SO, and molybdenum cofactor are described. Although XO deficiency is relatively benign, patients with isolated deficiencies of SO or molybdenum cofactor exhibit mental retardation, neurologic problems, and ocular lens dislocation. These abnormalities seem to be caused by the toxicity of sulfite and/or inadequate amounts of inorganic sulfate available for the formation of sulfated compounds present in the brain. XO and AO may also participate in the inactivation of some toxic substances, inasmuch as studies suggest that molybdenum deficiency is a factor in the higher incidence of esophageal cancer in populations consuming food grown in molybdenum-poor soil.

MeSH terms

  • Deficiency Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Deficiency Diseases* / etiology
  • Deficiency Diseases* / therapy
  • Food Analysis
  • Humans
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / complications
  • Molybdenum* / analysis
  • Molybdenum* / deficiency
  • Molybdenum* / physiology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Trace Elements* / analysis
  • Trace Elements* / deficiency
  • Trace Elements* / physiology


  • Trace Elements
  • Molybdenum