Iron is an essential element that is required for oxygen transfer, redox, and metabolic activities in mammals and bacteria. Mycobacteria, some of the most prevalent infectious agents in the world, require iron as growth factor. Mycobacterial-infected hosts set up a series of defense mechanisms, including systemic iron restriction and cellular iron distribution, whereas mycobacteria have developed sophisticated strategies to acquire iron from their hosts and to protect themselves from iron’s harmful effects. Therefore, it is assumed that host iron and iron-binding proteins, and natural or synthetic chelators would be keys targets to inhibit mycobacterial proliferation and may have a therapeutic potential. Beyond this hypothesis, recent evidence indicates a host protective effect of iron against mycobacterial infections likely through promoting remodeled immune response. In this review, we discuss experimental procedures and clinical observations that highlight the role of the immune response against mycobacteria under various iron availability conditions. In addition, we discuss the clinical relevance of our knowledge regarding host susceptibility to mycobacteria in the context of iron availability and suggest future directions for research on the relationship between host iron and the immune response and the use of iron as a therapeutic agent.
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