Genetic and molecular basis for copper toxicity. Academic Article uri icon


  • Recent studies resulted in the cloning of the genes responsible for Menkes syndrome and Wilson disease. Despite the distinct clinical phenotypes of these disorders, each gene encodes a highly homologous member of the cation-transport P-type ATPase family. The remarkable evolutionary conservation of these proteins in bacteria, yeast, plants, and mammals reveals a fundamental protein structure essential for copper export in all life forms. Characterization of a molecular defect in the rat homologue of the Wilson ATPase in the Long-Evans Cinnamon rat identifies an animal model of Wilson disease and will permit experimental analysis of the precise role of this ATPase in copper transport, the effects of specific inherited mutations on transport function, and the cellular and molecular mechanisms of tissue injury resulting from copper accumulation. Finally, recent molecular genetic analysis of a distinct group of patients with low serum ceruloplasmin and basal ganglia symptoms identified a series of mutations in the ceruloplasmin gene. The presence of these mutations in conjunction with the clinical and pathologic findings clarifies the essential biological role of this abundant copper protein in metal metabolism and identifies aceruloplasminemia as a novel autosomal recessive disorder of iron metabolism.

publication date

  • May 1996