Iron and infection: new developments and their implications

J Trauma. 1996 Aug;41(2):356-64. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199608000-00030.


Unsaturated transferrin in plasma ensures that the amount of free ferric iron available to bacteria is about 10(-18) mol/L. This low iron environment is essential for the bacteriostatic and bactericidal systems in blood, lymph, and exudates. Antibacterial systems are abolished when iron becomes freely available. This results in rapid extracellular bacterial growth and greatly increased bacterial virulence. In human plasma, a fall in Eh (oxidation-reduction potential) or pH results in the abolition or marked reduction of its bactericidal properties. This is highly relevant to infection after trauma, where a fall in Eh and pH frequently accompanies tissue damage. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics has put the treatment of serious infections in jeopardy. Reinforcement of natural means of resistance needs to be explored, as well as examining new antibacterials that interfere with bacterial iron metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Infections / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Iron / pharmacology*
  • Transferrin / physiology*


  • Transferrin
  • Iron