Metals in Biology and Medicine

Superoxide Reductase
Superoxide Reductase

Metal centers are essential and abundant cofactors in fundamental life processes such as respiration, photosynthesis, and carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur metabolism, and the number and diversity of metalloproteins and the biological roles for metal centers continue to proliferate unabated. Indeed, metal centers are estimated to be present in approximately one half of all proteins and to constitute the active sites of at least one third of all enzymes. The functions of metal centers in biology include transporting small molecules such as O2 and NO, mediating electron transport and radical generation, binding and activating substrates in wide variety of metalloenzymes, and regulating biological processes at the cellular level in response to metal, O2 or NO concentrations and oxidative stress conditions. The reliance of life processes on metal ions that can be toxic to the cell at elevated concentrations has resulted in elaborate systems for metal homeostasis and the biogenesis of complex metallocofactors. In addition, detoxification pathways to remove toxic metals such as Hg, Cd, and Pb have also been developed.

Progress in understanding the roles and assembly of metal centers in biological processes and in human health have greatly accelerated over the past 30 years, with research efforts spanning a range of disciplines from genetics and microbiology to biophysics that offer enormous potential for understanding life processes and human diseases at both the cellular and molecular levels. Moreover, metal-based drugs, such as cis-platinum derivatives for cancer treatment and gold-based auranofin for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as the use of metals or metal nanoparticles as imaging contrast agents are becoming increasingly more important.

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