Iron is essential for the survival of most bacteria but presents a significant challenge given its limited bioavailability. Furthermore, the toxicity of iron combined with the need to maintain physiological iron levels within a narrow concentration range requires sophisticated systems to sense, regulate, and transport iron. Most bacteria have evolved mechanisms to chelate and transport ferric iron (Fe3+) via siderophore receptor systems, and pathogenic bacteria have further lowered this barrier by employing mechanisms to utilize the host's hemoproteins. Once internalized, heme is cleaved by both oxidative and nonoxidative mechanisms to release iron. Heme, itself a lipophilic and toxic molecule, presents a significant challenge for transport into the cell. As such, pathogenic bacteria have evolved sophisticated cell surface signaling and transport systems to obtain heme from the host. In this review, we summarize the structure and function of the heme-sensing and transport systems of pathogenic bacteria and the potential of these systems as antimicrobial targets.


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