Résumé : Introduction: Many metals like iron (Fe), copper (Cu) or zinc (Zn) fulfil various essential biological functions and are thus vital for all living organisms. For instance, they play important roles in nervous tissue, participating in a wide range of processes such as neurotransmitter synthesis, myelination or synaptic transmission. State of the art: As in other tissues, brain cells tightly control the concentration of metals but any excess or deficit can lead to deleterious responses and alter cognitive functions. Of note, certain metals such as Zn, Fe or Cu accumulate in specific brain structures over lifespan and several neurodegenerative diseases are associated with a dysregulation of the homeostatic mechanisms controlling the concentration of these cations. Conclusion and perspectives: This review will address some of the cellular and molecular processes controlling the entry and distribution of selected metals (mainly Zn and Fe) in the brain, as well as their roles in synaptic transmission, in the pathogenesis of some neurologic diseases such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, and their impact on cognitive functions. © 2010 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.