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Virchows Arch. 2004 Aug;445(2):111-8. Epub 2004 Jun 17.

Wilson disease.

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  • 1Institute of Pathology, Medical University of Graz, Auenbruggerplatz 25, 8036 Graz, Austria.


Wilson disease (WD) is an autosomal recessive disorder of copper metabolism. Since daily copper intake exceeds the body's requirements, effective means of excreting excess copper are essential. These are accomplished by ATP7B, a new member of the cation-transporting p-type ATPase family, which is mainly expressed in the liver and mediates both copper secretion into plasma (coupled with ceruloplasmin synthesis) and its excretion into bile. Thus far, more than 200 mutations of the WD gene have been detected, causing impairment of ATP7B function and, ultimately, copper accumulation. Excess copper, however, induces free-radical reactions and lipid peroxidation. Resultant liver damage leads to steatosis, inflammation, cirrhosis, and, occasionally, fulminant liver failure. The diagnosis of WD is commonly made on the basis of typical clinical and laboratory findings, including low serum ceruloplasmin, increased urinary copper excretion, and increased hepatic copper content. Since liver morphology is non-specific, and copper histochemistry may lead to both false-negative and false-positive results, the pathologist usually only suspects the disease or assists in its confirmation. Although the value of molecular genetic testing is limited due to the high number of possible gene mutations, polymerase chain reaction may be useful for the evaluation of family members of homozygous index patients.

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