Wilson's disease, 100 years later…

Rev Neurol (Paris). 2013 Dec;169(12):936-43. doi: 10.1016/j.neurol.2013.05.002. Epub 2013 Oct 9.


Texts published, in 1912, 100 years ago, by Sir K. Wilson on his eponymous disease in Brain, The Lancet and La Revue Neurologique highlight the relevance of his descriptions in the light of the current knowledge. Wilson's invocation of an "unknown toxin" appears today as a prophetic intuition as the presence of excess copper in the liver was mentioned for the first time a year later whereas the role of copper in this disease was not described until 1929. Progress has been made to better understand the physiology of Wilson's disease (WD). The ATP7B gene implicated in WD is located on chromosome 13 and more than 500 mutations and 100 polymorphisms have been to date identified. The phenotypic expression is highly variable, even within a family. This can partly be explained by environmental factors as nutrition. Modulator genes are also involved in the phenotypic expression of the disease. Most of symptoms observed in WD have already been described in detail by Wilson in 1912, but subsequent progress was made over the following 100 years, helping the physician diagnose WD. Hepatic and neurological symptoms are the most frequent expressions of the disease. Other extrahepatic features include renal manifestations, osteoarticular disorders, myocardial abnormalities, endocrine disturbances, realizing a multisystemic disease. The diagnosis of the disease is based on a combination of clinical symptoms, biological, radiological and genetic data and new tools (Brain MRI, relative exchangeable copper…) allow reducing delay to diagnosis. Therapeutic findings have also changed the disease prognosis. Treatment is based on the use of copper chelators to promote copper excretion from the body (D-penicillamine and Triethylenetetramine) and zinc salts to reduce copper absorption. Tetratiomolybdate appears to be a promising treatment. While significant progress has been made during this century, many physiological aspects of this disease remain unknown and require further research to find answers in the next 100 years.

Keywords: Ceruloplasmin; Ceruloplasmine; Cuivre échangeable relatif; Kinnier Wilson; Maladie de Wilson; Mouvements anormaux; Movement disorders; Relative exchangeable copper; Wilson's disease.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chelating Agents / therapeutic use
  • Copper / metabolism
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration* / complications
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration* / diagnosis
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration* / genetics
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration* / history
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration* / therapy
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / etiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology


  • Chelating Agents
  • Copper