Prokaryotic heme biosynthesis: Multiple pathways to a common essential product

Harry A. Dailey, Tamara A. Dailey, Svetlana Gerdes, Dieter Jahn, Martina Jahn, Mark R. O'Brian, Martin J. Warren

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

197 Citations (Scopus)


The advent of heme during evolution allowed organisms possessing this compound to safely and efficiently carry out a variety of chemical reactions that otherwise were difficult or impossible. While it was long assumed that a single heme biosynthetic pathway existed in nature, over the past decade, it has become clear that there are three distinct pathways among prokaryotes, although all three pathways utilize a common initial core of three enzymes to produce the intermediate uroporphyrinogen III. The most ancient pathway and the only one found in the Archaea converts siroheme to protoheme via an oxygen-independent four-enzymestep process. Bacteria utilize the initial core pathway but then add one additional common step to produce coproporphyrinogen III. Following this step, Gram-positive organisms oxidize coproporphyrinogen III to coproporphyrin III, insert iron to make coproheme, and finally decarboxylate coproheme to protoheme, whereas Gramnegative bacteria first decarboxylate coproporphyrinogen III to protoporphyrinogen IX and then oxidize this to protoporphyrin IX prior to metal insertion to make protoheme. In order to adapt to oxygen-deficient conditions, two steps in the bacterial pathways have multiple forms to accommodate oxidative reactions in an anaerobic environment. The regulation of these pathways reflects the diversity of bacterial metabolism. This diversity, along with the late recognition that three pathways exist, has significantly slowed advances in this field such that no single organism's heme synthesis pathway regulation is currently completely characterized.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00048-16
JournalMicrobiology and Molecular Biology Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Biosynthetic pathways
  • Heme
  • Metabolic regulation
  • Pathway evolution
  • Tetrapyrroles

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