Wilson's disease (hepatolenticular degeneration).Ophthalmic Semin. 1976; 1(1):63-9.OS
Wilson's disease, or hepatolenticular degeneration, is a rare inherited disorder of copper metabolism which usually affects young people. Excess copper accumulates in the tissues, primarily in the liver, brain, and cornea. This copper deposition results in a wide range of hepatic and neurological symptoms, and may produce psychiatric illness. Hepatic involvement often occurs in childhood, while neurological deficits generally are detected at a later age. The disease is inherited in an autosomal recessive fashion. Ocular findings are of particular importance because the corneal copper deposition, forming the Kayser-Fleischer ring,is the only pathognomonic sign of the disease. The structure of the ring and the presence of copper have been well established. An anterior capsular deposition of copper in the lens results in a characteristic sunflower cataract in some of these patients. Other ocular abnormalities have been described but are much less common. The pathogenesis of the disease and the basic genetic defect remain obscure. It is clear that there is excess copper in the tissues, but the mechanism of its deposition is unknown. It is in some way associated with a failure to synthesize the serum copper protein ceruloplasmin normally. Another theory suggests that an abnormal protein with a high affinity for copper may bind the metal in the tissues. The diagnosis may be suggested by the clinical manifestations and confirmed by the presence of a Kayser-Fleischer ring. In the absence of these findings biochemical determinations are necessary. The most important of these are the serum ceruloplasmin, the urinary copper, and the hepatic copper concentration on biopsy. Treatment consists in the administration of the copper chelating agent, penicillamine, and the avoidance of a high copper intake. This usually results in marked clinical improvement if irreversible tissue damage has not occurred. Maintenance therapy for life is necessary in order to continue the negative copper balance. The detection and prophylactic treatment of asymptomatic individuals with the disease is especially important. Seven cases of Wilson's disease have been presented in order to illustrate many of the features which have been discussed, with emphasis on the ocular findings.