• citrate ligands;
  • electrospray mass spectrometry;
  • iron;
  • kinetics;
  • solid-state structures


Despite the crucial role of “iron(III) citrate systems” in the iron metabolism of living organisms (bacteria as well as plants or mammals), the coordination chemistry of ferric citrate remains poorly defined. Variations in the experimental conditions used for the preparation of so-called ferric citrates (iron salt, Fe:cit molar ratio, base, pH, temperature, solvent) lead to several different species, which are in equilibrium in solution. To date, six different anionic complexes have been structurally characterized in the solid state, by ourselves or others. In the work described herein, we have established the experimental conditions leading to each of them. Five were obtained from aqueous solution. With the exception of a nonanuclear species (of which fragments have been detected), all were identified in aqueous solution on the basis of electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. In addition, the spectra revealed a new trinuclear species, which could not be crystallized. Kinetic studies of iron uptake from citrate species by iron chelators confirmed the results indicated by the ESI-MS studies. These studies also allowed the relative molar fraction of mononuclear versus polynuclear complexes to be determined, which depends on the Fe:cit molar ratio.