Wilson's Disease: An Update

Shyamal K Das; Kunal Ray


Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2006;2(9):482-493. 

In This Article

Summary and Introduction

Wilson's disease (WD) is an inborn error of copper metabolism caused by a mutation to the copper-transporting gene ATP7B. The disease has an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance, and is characterized by excessive copper deposition, predominantly in the liver and brain. Diagnosis of the condition depends primarily on clinical features, biochemical parameters and the presence of the Kayser-Fleischer ring, and a new diagnostic scoring system has recently been proposed. Mutations in ATP7B can occur anywhere along the entire 21 exons, which makes the identification of gene defects particularly challenging. Identification of carriers and presymptomatic family members of affected individuals is achieved by polymerase-chain-reaction-based marker analysis. The traditional treatment for WD is based on copper chelation with agents such as D-penicillamine, but use of this drug has been questioned because of reported side effects. The use of agents such as trientine and ammonium tetrathiomolybdate has been advocated, although results of long-term trials are awaited. In selected cases, orthotropic hepatic transplantation can reverse the basic metabolic abnormality in WD and improve both hepatic and neurological symptoms. Studies of the underlying defects in ATP7B and its suspected modifiers ATOX1 and COMMD1 are expected to unravel the disease's genotype-phenotype correlation, and should lead to the design of improved drugs for ameliorating the suffering of patients.

Wilson's disease (WD) is an inherited disorder of copper metabolism. The condition was first defined by Dr Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson in 1912,[1] and, since then, studies have revealed many of its associated biochemical disturbances[2,3,4] and genetic abnormalities.[5,6,7] The physical burden of the disease falls largely on the liver and brain. A special feature of WD is that medical therapy is used to treat presymptomatic as well as symptomatic individuals, and hepatic transplantation can reverse the metabolic abnormality. In this article we review the clinical features, diagnosis and management of WD, and discuss recent advances in clinical practice that have improved management of the disease.


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