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Pathogenic neisseriae have a repertoire of high-affinity iron uptake systems to facilitate acquisition of this essential element in the human host. They possess surface receptor proteins that directly bind the extracellular host iron-binding proteins transferrin and lactoferrin. Alternatively, they have siderophore receptors capable of scavenging iron when exogenous siderophores are present. Released intracellular haem iron present in the form of haemoglobin, haemoglobin–haptoglobin or free haem can be used directly as a source of iron for growth through direct binding by specific surface receptors. Although these receptors may vary in complexity and composition, the key protein involved in the transport of iron (as iron, haem or iron-siderophore) across the outer membrane is a TonB-dependent receptor with an overall structure presumably similar to that determined recently for Escherichia coli FhuA or FepA. The receptors are potentially ideal vaccine targets in view of their critical role in survival in the host. Preliminary pilot studies indicate that transferrin receptor-based vaccines may be protective in humans.