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October 1996

Treatment of Wilson Disease With Ammonium Tetrathiomolybdate: II. Initial Therapy in 33 Neurologically Affected Patients and Follow-up With Zinc Therapy

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Human Genetics (Dr Brewer, Ms Johnson, and Mr Dick), Internal Medicine (Dr Brewer), the Division of Speech-Language Pathology, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Ms Kluin), and the Departments of Neurology (Ms Kluin and Drs Fink and Brunberg) and Radiology (Dr Brunberg), University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor.

Arch Neurol. 1996;53(10):1017-1025. doi:10.1001/archneur.1996.00550100103019

Objective:  To test the efficacy and toxic effects of ammonium tetrathiomolybdate in the initial treatment of a relatively large series of patients with neurologic symptoms and signs caused by Wilson disease. Two key aspects of efficacy are to preserve the neurologic function present at the onset of therapy and to maximize the opportunity for long-term recovery.

Design:  An open study of 33 patients treated for 8 weeks each, including further follow-up data on the original 17 patients. Neurologic function was evaluated by frequent quantitative neurologic and speech pathology examinations. Several copper-related variables were studied to evaluate the effect of the drug on copper, and several biochemical and clinical variables were studied to evaluate potential toxic effects. Patients were then followed up at yearly intervals, with follow-up periods of 1 to 8 years reported.

Setting:  A university hospital referral setting.

Intervention:  Patients were generally treated for 8 weeks with tetrathiomolybdate, followed by zinc maintenance therapy.

Main Outcome Measures:  Neurologic function was evaluated by quantitative neurologic and motor speech examinations and magnetic resonance imaging scans of the brain.

Results:  During the 8 weeks of tetrathiomolybdate administration, only 1 of the 33 patients showed deterioration in neurologic function. Copper status and potential further toxic effects were generally well controlled quickly. Evaluation of data from individual patients revealed evidence of a toxic side effect in only 1 patient, who exhibited reversible anemia. During the ensuing period of follow-up of 1 to 6 years, neurologic recovery in most patients was good to excellent.

Conclusions:  Tetrathiomolybdate appears to be an excellent form of initial treatment in patients with Wilson disease who present with neurologic symptoms and signs. In contrast to penicillamine therapy, initial treatment with tetrathiomolybdate rarely allows further, often irreversible, neurologic deterioration.

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