Throughout evolution, all organisms have harnessed the redox properties of copper (Cu) and iron (Fe) as a cofactor or structural determinant of proteins that perform critical functions in biology. At its most sobering stance to Earth's biome, Cu biochemistry allows photosynthetic organisms to harness solar energy and convert it into the organic energy that sustains the existence of all nonphotosynthetic life forms. The conversion of organic energy, in the form of nutrients that include carbohydrates, amino acids and fatty acids, is subsequently released during cellular respiration, itself a Cu-dependent process, and stored as ATP that is used to drive a myriad of critical biological processes such as enzyme-catalyzed biosynthetic processes, transport of cargo around cells and across membranes, and protein degradation. The life-supporting properties of Cu incur a significant challenge to cells that must not only exquisitely balance intracellular Cu concentrations, but also chaperone this redox-active metal from its point of cellular entry to its ultimate destination so as to avert the potential for inappropriate biochemical interactions or generation of damaging reactive oxidative species (ROS). In this review we chart the travels of Cu from the extracellular milieu of fungal and mammalian cells, its path within the cytosol as inferred by the proteins and ligands that escort and deliver Cu to intracellular organelles and protein targets, and its journey throughout the body of mammals. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Cell Biology of Metals.
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