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J Biochem Mol Toxicol. 1999;13(2):93-106.

Molecular mechanisms of copper metabolism and the role of the Menkes disease protein.

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National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology, The University of Queensland, Coopers Plains, Australia.


Menkes disease is an X-linked, recessive disorder of copper metabolism that occurs in approximately 1 in 200,000 live births. The condition is characterized by skeletal abnormalities, severe mental retardation, neurologic degeneration, and patient mortality in early childhood. The symptoms of Menkes disease result from a deficiency of serum copper and copper-dependent enzymes. A candidate gene for the disease has been isolated and designated MNK. The MNK gene codes for a P-type cation transporting ATPase, based on homology to known P-type ATPases and in vitro experimentation. cDNA clones of MNK in Menkes patients show diminished or absented hybridization in northern blot experiments. The Menkes protein functions to export excess intracellular copper and activates upon Cu(I) binding to the six metal-binding repeats in the amino-terminal domain. The loss of Menkes protein activity blocks the export of dietary copper from the gastrointestinal tract and causes the copper deficiency associated with Menkes disease. Each of the Menkes protein amino-terminal repeats contains a conserved -X-Met-X-Cys-X-X-Cys- motif (where X is any amino acid). These metal-binding repeats are conserved in other cation exporting ATPases involved in metal metabolism and in proteins involved in cellular defense against heavy metals in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes. An overview of copper metabolism in humans and a discussion of our understanding of the molecular basis of cellular copper homeostasis is presented. This forms the basis for a discussion of Menkes disease and the protein deficit in this disease.

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