The hidden face of Wilson's disease

Rev Neurol (Paris). 2018 Nov;174(9):589-596. doi: 10.1016/j.neurol.2018.08.001. Epub 2018 Sep 21.


In brief, the classic form of Wilson's disease (WD) is an autosomal-recessive condition with hepatic, neurologic, psychiatric and systemic manifestations. However, the diagnosis should not be excluded because of a family history consistent with autosomal-dominant transmission. The latest next-generation sequencing (NGS) studies have demonstrated a gap between phenotype and genetic prevalences, and also suggest that WD may still be underdiagnosed. In a majority of WD patients, early recognition and appropriate treatment can result in resolution of symptoms and/or improved quality of life. Thus, finding WD in patients aged>40 years or with thrombocytopenia, hemolytic anemia, unexplained bone pain, amenorrhea, repeated spontaneous abortion or renal lithiasis is of major importance. These symptoms can all be found on their own or in association with mild-to-incapacitating neurological and/or neuropsychiatric manifestations. While brain lesions of the lenticular, midbrain and dentate nuclei are classic, white-matter changes and cortical lesions may also be observed: these are often asymmetrical with frontal lobe predilection and, when extensive, associated with a poor prognosis. These lesions are due mainly to copper deposition, but may also be related to focal accumulation of other metals, such as iron and manganese. A new biological marker called 'relative exchangeable copper' (REC) facilitates diagnosis and familial screening. Patient monitoring is important to ensure treatment adherence, efficacy and tolerability, and to detect rare complications such as copper deficiency induced by chronic copper chelation and hepatocarcinoma in patients with cirrhosis. Currently used treatments are copper chelators and zinc salts. Therapeutic perspectives are liver transplantation, new copper chelators as tetrathiomolybdate, hepatocyte/tissue transfer and gene therapy.

Keywords: Autosomal-recessive condition; Biological marker; Copper biomarkers; Next-generation sequencing; Wilson's disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Copper / blood
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration / diagnosis*
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration / diagnostic imaging
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration / epidemiology
  • Hepatolenticular Degeneration / genetics
  • Humans


  • Biomarkers
  • Copper