Copper(I)-binding properties of de-coppering drugs for the treatment of Wilson disease. α-Lipoic acid as a potential anti-copper agent

Sci Rep. 2018 Jan 23;8(1):1463. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-19873-2.


Wilson disease is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder caused by loss-of-function mutations in the P-type copper ATPase, ATP7B, which leads to toxic accumulation of copper mainly in the liver and brain. Wilson disease is treatable, primarily by copper-chelation therapy, which promotes copper excretion. Although several de-coppering drugs are currently available, their Cu(I)-binding affinities have not been quantitatively characterized. Here we determined the Cu(I)-binding affinities of five major de-coppering drugs - D-penicillamine, trientine, 2,3-dimercapto-1-propanol, meso-2,3-dimercaptosuccinate and tetrathiomolybdate - by exploring their ability to extract Cu(I) ions from two Cu(I)-binding proteins, the copper chaperone for cytochrome c oxidase, Cox17, and metallothionein. We report that the Cu(I)-binding affinity of these drugs varies by four orders of magnitude and correlates positively with the number of sulfur atoms in the drug molecule and negatively with the number of atoms separating two SH groups. Based on the analysis of structure-activity relationship and determined Cu(I)-binding affinity, we hypothesize that the endogenous biologically active substance, α-lipoic acid, may be suitable for the treatment of Wilson disease. Our hypothesis is supported by cell culture experiments where α-lipoic acid protected hepatic cells from copper toxicity. These results provide a basis for elaboration of new generation drugs that may provide better therapeutic outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Chelating Agents / metabolism*
  • Chelating Agents / pharmacology
  • Copper / metabolism*
  • Copper / toxicity
  • Copper Transport Proteins
  • Hepatocytes / cytology*
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Metallothionein / metabolism
  • Penicillamine / metabolism
  • Penicillamine / pharmacology
  • Thioctic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Thioctic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Trientine / metabolism
  • Trientine / pharmacology


  • COX17 protein, human
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Chelating Agents
  • Copper Transport Proteins
  • Thioctic Acid
  • Copper
  • Metallothionein
  • Penicillamine
  • Trientine