The pattern of copper distribution in human newborn liver was investigated by histochemical methods (rhodamine, orcein and rubeanic acid) and by atomic absorption spectroscopy. A significant correlation (p < 0.005) was found between the degree of histochemical positivity and the copper concentration found by atomic absorption spectroscopy. In the majority of the 30 livers examined (first group), the copper concentration was much higher than that of normal adult liver, although exhibiting striking individual differences. No correlation between the copper content and sex, body weight or gestational age was found. From a second group of five livers, longitudinal tissue slices 0.5 cm thick were partitioned into regular blocks of about 0.5 gm, which were individually analyzed by atomic absorption spectroscopy. Copper appeared unevenly distributed within each liver, with marked differences even between adjacent blocks. However, a consistent tendency of copper to accumulate in the left lobe more than in the right one was evident. Five additional blocks, one for each liver, were further partitioned into 10 small specimens of a final size (0.05 gm), comparable to that of a needle biopsy. Even at this sampling level, consisting of tissue fragments taken from a small tissue area, the copper concentration appeared quite irregularly distributed. These findings may be considered for two different aspects: (a) the biological implications of the pattern of copper accumulation in different lobar and lobular liver compartments and (b) the statistical inference, for diagnostic purposes, of the mean liver copper content from measurements of single percutaneous biopsy specimens.
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