The essential transition metal ions are avidly accumulated by cells, yet they have two faces: They are put to use as required cofactors, but they also can catalyze cytotoxic reactions. Several families of proteins are emerging that control the activity of intracellular metal ions and help confine them to vital roles. These include integral transmembrane transporters, metalloregulatory sensors, and diffusible cytoplasmic metallochaperone proteins that protect and guide metal ions to targets. It is becoming clear that many of these proteins use atypical coordination chemistry to accomplish their unique goals. The different coordination numbers, types of coordinating residues, and solvent accessibilities of these sites are providing insight into the inorganic chemistry of the cytoplasm.
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