The abilities of bacterial pathogens to adapt to the environment within the host are essential to their virulence. Microorganisms have adapted to the iron limitation present in mammalian hosts by evolving diverse mechanisms for the assimilation of iron sufficient for growth. In addition, many bacterial pathogens have used the low concentration of iron present in the host as an important signal to enhance the expression of a wide variety of bacterial toxins and other virulence determinants. The molecular basis of coordinate regulation by iron has been most thoroughly studied in Escherichia coli. In this organism, coordinate regulation of gene expression by iron depends on the regulatory gene, fur. Regulation of gene expression by iron in a number of pathogenic organisms is coordinated by proteins homologous to the Fur protein of E. coli. Additional regulatory proteins may be superimposed on the Fur repressor to provide the fine-tuning necessary for the precise regulation of individual virulence genes in response to iron and other environmental signals. Studies of the mechanisms of regulation of iron acquisition systems and virulence determinants by iron should lead to a better understanding of the adaptive response of bacteria to the low-iron environment of the host and its importance in virulence.