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Semin Liver Dis. 1996 Feb;16(1):83-95.

Wilson disease: genetic basis of copper toxicity and natural history.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461, USA.


The discovery that the gene for Wilson disease encodes a copper-transporting ATPase has greatly improved our understanding of the pathophysiology of this disorder and of copper metabolism in humans. The abundance of disease-specific mutations and their location at multiple sites across the genome have limited molecular genetic diagnosis to kindred of known patients, and confirm the necessity for de novo screening by well-proven clinical and biochemical means. It is uncertain whether the variety of specific mutations will account for the wide range of presenting clinical signs and symptoms of Wilson disease, and environmental and extragenic factors are likely to be important contributing factors. Chelation therapy with penicillamine and trientine remain effective treatment for most symptomatic hepatic and neurologic Wilson disease. Zinc salts may be used for some asymptomatic patients, and OLT for fulminant hepatitis and patients for whom pharmacotherapy is ineffective. The chelating agent tetrathiomolybdate is under investigation for the treatment of neurologic Wilson disease. Gene therapy is the new horizon for treatment of Wilson disease. However, the ability to treat this disorder effectively by this means awaits further characterization of the gene product and more efficient methods for gene delivery to all hepatocytes in the liver.

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