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Abstract

Wilson's disease is a hereditary defect in copper excretion leading to the accumulation of copper in the tissues, with subsequent tissue damage. The most serious sequela is that of progressive central nervous system involvement. The use of orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) has been controversial for those patients with neurological symptoms attributed to Wilson's disease. The aim of this study is to determine the effectiveness of OLT for patients with Wilson's disease, including those with neurological involvement attributed to copper accumulation in the central nervous system. OLT was performed in 45 patients (19 men [42.2%], 26 women [57.8%]) with Wilson's disease between 1971 and 1993 who were followed up for at least 4 years. The age at diagnosis of Wilson's disease ranged from 3 to 41 years (mean, 17.7 ± 7.4 years). The age at OLT ranged from 8 to 52 years (mean, 22.3 ± 9.4 years). Nineteen patients (42.2%) were aged younger than 18 years at OLT. The indications for OLT included chronic hepatic failure in 15 patients (33.3%) and fulminant (FHF) or subfulminant hepatic failure in 30 patients (66.6%). All but 1 of the 19 pediatric patients (94.7%) were in the latter group. Twenty-five patients (55.5%) were receiving D -penicillamine, 9 patients for more than 1 year; none of the patients treated long term presented as FHF. Thirty-three patients (73.3%) survived more than 5 years after OLT. Fourteen patients (31%) died during the posttransplantation period; 7 of the 14 patients (50%) were aged younger than 18 years. Twelve patients died during the first 3 months after OLT of complications of disease and surgery, 10 of whom underwent transplantation for FHF. The other 2 patients died 6 and 9 years after transplantation of infectious problems. Eleven patients (24.4%) required retransplantation because of a primary nonfunctioning graft (n = 6), chronic rejection (n = 4), and hepatic artery thrombosis (n = 1). Seventeen patients (37.7%) presented with neurological abnormalities; 14 patients with Wilsonian neurological manifestations and 3 patients with components of increased intracranial pressure. Ten of the 13 surviving patients with hepatic insufficiency and neurological abnormalities at OLT showed significant neurological improvement. Our experience shows OLT is a life-saving procedure in patients with end-stage Wilson's disease and is associated with excellent long-term survival. The neurological manifestation of the disease can improve significantly after OLT. Earlier transplantation in patients with an unsatisfactory response to medical treatment may prevent irreversible neurological deterioration and less satisfactory improvement after OLT.