Quelling the red menace: haem capture by bacteria

Mol Microbiol. 1995 Nov;18(3):383-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.1995.mmi_18030383.x.


Haem is an important bacterial nutrient. As a prosthetic group of several proteins, haem functions as a cofactor mediating oxygen transport, energy generation, and mixed-function oxidation. In addition, the iron chelated in the porphyrin ring may serve as an iron substrate for growth. However, because of its propensity for oxidizing cellular constituents, haem is always associated with proteins. Therefore, the uptake and transit of haem across bacterial membranes requires the participation of protein escorts. Bacteria have evolved a diverse array of surface-exposed receptors dedicated to binding haem and haem-proteins. Following this selective recognition at the bacterial cell surface, haem is transported across the outer membrane via a TonB-dependent process. The control of receptor expression appears to be multifactorial, probably involving a number of global regulators. A model integrating this information is presented.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Biological Transport
  • Carrier Proteins / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Heme / metabolism*
  • Hemin / metabolism
  • Hemoglobins / physiology
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Biological*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / biosynthesis
  • Virulence


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Hemoglobins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • tonB protein, Bacteria
  • Heme
  • Hemin