Wilson disease: brain pathology

Handb Clin Neurol. 2017;142:77-89. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63625-6.00008-2.


In Wilson disease (WD), brain cellular damage is thought to be due to copper deposition. Striatal lesions are the most characteristic lesions found in the brain of patients with neurologic symptoms, as emphasized in the initial reports of S.A.K. Wilson. WD brain lesions can be more diffuse, including in the pons, midbrain, thalamus, dentate nucleus, and, less frequently, corpus callosum and cortex. In rare cases, extensive cortical-subcortical lesions have been reported. Increased cellularity is noted in the lesions due to the proliferation of modified astrocytes named Alzheimer types of glia and specific cells, called Opalski cells, that are characteristic of WD. Although abnormalities in the putamen predominate in patients with dystonic syndrome, clinicopathologic correlations are scarce. Furthermore, the cerebral copper content is not correlated with the severity of the neuropathologic abnormalities or with the neuropsychiatric symptomatology. This fact raises the question of factors other than copper toxicity that may contribute to the pathogenesis of WD neurologic disturbances.

Keywords: ATP7A; ATP7B; ATPases; CSF; Wilson disease; astrocytes; blood–brain barrier; copper; hepatocerebral degeneration; lenticular nucleus; metal; neuropathology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Diseases / etiology
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Copper / metabolism
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Neuroglia / pathology


  • Copper