Background & aims: Wilson's disease is an autosomal-recessive disorder of copper metabolism that results from the absence or dysfunction of a copper-transporting P-type adenosine triphosphatase that leads to impaired biliary copper excretion and disturbed holoceruloplasmin synthesis. To gain further insight into the role of the Wilson's disease protein in hepatic copper handling, its localization in human liver was investigated.
Methods: By use of a specific antibody, localization of the Wilson's disease protein was studied in liver membrane fractions and liver sections by immunoblotting, immunohistochemistry, and double-label confocal scanning laser microscopy.
Results: The 165-kilodalton protein, found by immunoblotting, was most abundant mainly in isolated plasma membrane fractions enriched in canalicular domains. Immunohistochemistry revealed intracellular punctuate staining of hepatocytes in certain regions of the liver, whereas a canalicular membrane staining pattern was observed in other regions. Double-labeling studies showed that in the latter regions the transporter is present mainly in vesicular structures just underneath the canalicular membrane that are positive for markers of the trans-Golgi network. A weak staining of the canalicular membrane, identified by staining for P-glycoprotein, was observed.
Conclusions: These results show that in human liver the Wilson's disease protein is predominantly present in trans-Golgi vesicles in the pericanalicular area, whereas relatively small amounts of the protein appear to localize to the canalicular membrane, consistent with a dual function of the protein in holoceruloplasmin synthesis and biliary copper excretion.