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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jul 14;106(28):11719-24. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0903842106. Epub 2009 Jun 29.

Bacteria capture iron from heme by keeping tetrapyrrol skeleton intact.

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  • 1Unité des Membranes Bactériennes, Département de Microbiologie, Institut Pasteur, CNRS URA 2172, 75724 Paris Cedex 15, France.


Because heme is a major iron-containing molecule in vertebrates, the ability to use heme-bound iron is a determining factor in successful infection by bacterial pathogens. Until today, all known enzymes performing iron extraction from heme did so through the rupture of the tetrapyrrol skeleton. Here, we identified 2 Escherichia coli paralogs, YfeX and EfeB, without any previously known physiological functions. YfeX and EfeB promote iron extraction from heme preserving the tetrapyrrol ring intact. This novel enzymatic reaction corresponds to the deferrochelation of the heme. YfeX and EfeB are the sole proteins able to provide iron from exogenous heme sources to E. coli. YfeX is located in the cytoplasm. EfeB is periplasmic and enables iron extraction from heme in the periplasm and iron uptake in the absence of any heme permease. YfeX and EfeB are widespread and highly conserved in bacteria. We propose that their physiological function is to retrieve iron from heme.

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