The terminal three steps in haem biosynthesis are the oxidative decarboxylation of coproporphyrinogen III to protoporphyrinogen IX, followed by the six-electron oxidation of protoporphyrinogen to protoporphyrin IX, and finally the insertion of ferrous iron to form haem. Interestingly, Nature has evolved distinct enzymic machinery to deal with the antepenultimate (co-proporphyrinogen oxidase) and penultimate (protoporphyrinogen oxidase) steps for aerobic compared with anaerobic organisms. The terminal step is catalysed by the enzyme ferrochelatase. This enzyme is clearly conserved with regard to a small set of essential catalytic residues, but varies significantly with regard to size, subunit composition, cellular location and the presence or absence of a [2Fe-2S] cluster. Coproporphyrinogen oxidase and protoporphyrinogen oxidase are reviewed with regard to their enzymic and physical characteristics. Ferrochelatase, which is the best characterized of these three enzymes, will be described with particular emphasis paid to what has been learned from the crystal structure of the Bacillus subtilis and human enzymes.

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