Wilson's disease: current status

Am J Med. 1992 Jun;92(6):643-54. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(92)90783-8.


Objective: To review current concepts about the pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and treatment of Wilson's disease, with an emphasis on recent developments.

Data identification: Published information was identified using MEDLINE and through extensive manual searching of bibliographies in identified sources.

Results: The basic biochemical alteration responsible for deranged hepatobiliary copper homeostasis in Wilson's disease has yet to be identified. The gene for Wilson's disease has been mapped to chromosome 13, but the function of its gene product has not yet been determined. The clinical manifestations of Wilson's disease are varied and often nonspecific and include a range of hepatic, neurologic, and psychiatric findings. Penicillamine remains the drug of choice for the treatment of Wilson's disease, but recent experience suggests that trientine and zinc may be safe, effective alternatives. All three drugs are probably safe for use in pregnant patients with Wilson's disease. Liver transplantation is the only effective treatment for Wilsonian fulminant hepatic failure and corrects the underlying metabolic defect.

Conclusions: Wilson's disease is a disorder of hepatobiliary copper excretion manifested predominantly by hepatic and neurologic copper toxicosis and inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern. Although the specific underlying biochemical defect remains to be defined, specific therapy is available and usually successful. Maintaining a high index of suspicion is critical in diagnosing this readily treatable inherited disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Ceruloplasmin / analysis
  • Copper / analysis
  • Copper / blood
  • Copper / urine
  • Copper Radioisotopes
  • Drug Monitoring
  • Genetic Testing
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration* / diagnosis
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration* / metabolism
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Ophthalmoscopy
  • Penicillamine / administration & dosage
  • Penicillamine / pharmacology
  • Penicillamine / therapeutic use
  • Sulfates / administration & dosage
  • Sulfates / pharmacology
  • Sulfates / therapeutic use
  • Trientine / administration & dosage
  • Trientine / pharmacology
  • Trientine / therapeutic use
  • Zinc / administration & dosage
  • Zinc / pharmacology
  • Zinc / therapeutic use
  • Zinc Sulfate


  • Copper Radioisotopes
  • Sulfates
  • Zinc Sulfate
  • Copper
  • Ceruloplasmin
  • Penicillamine
  • Zinc
  • Trientine