Molybdenum is an essential trace element and crucial for the survival of animals. Four mammalian Mo-dependent enzymes are known, all of them harboring a pterin-based molybdenum cofactor (Moco) in their active site. In these enzymes, molybdenum catalyzes oxygen transfer reactions from or to substrates using water as oxygen donor or acceptor. Molybdenum shuttles between two oxidation states, Mo(IV) and Mo(VI). Following substrate reduction or oxidation, electrons are subsequently shuttled by either inter- or intra-molecular electron transfer chains involving prosthetic groups such as heme or iron-sulfur clusters. In all organisms studied so far, Moco is synthesized by a highly conserved multi-step biosynthetic pathway. A deficiency in the biosynthesis of Moco results in a pleitropic loss of all four human Mo-enzyme activities and in most cases in early childhood death. In this review we first introduce general aspects of molybdenum biochemistry before we focus on the functions and deficiencies of two Mo-enzymes, xanthine dehydrogenase and sulfite oxidase, caused either by deficiency of the apo-protein or a pleiotropic loss of Moco due to a genetic defect in its biosynthesis. The underlying molecular basis of Moco deficiency, possible treatment options and links to other diseases, such as neuropsychiatric disorders, will be discussed.
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