Liver transplantation as a rescue therapy for severe neurologic forms of Wilson disease


To evaluate the effect of liver transplantation (LT) in patients with Wilson disease (WD) with severe neurologic worsening resistant to active chelation.


French patients with WD who underwent LT for pure neurologic indication were retrospectively studied. Before LT and at the last follow-up, neurologic impairment was evaluated with the Unified Wilson’s Disease Rating Scale (UWDRS) score, disability with the modified Rankin Scale (mRS) score, and hepatic function with the Model for End-stage Liver Disease score, together with the presence of a Kayser-Fleischer ring (KFR), brain MRI scores, and copper balance. The survival rate and disability at the last follow-up were the coprimary outcomes; evolution of KFR and brain MRI were the secondary outcomes. Prognosis factors were further assessed.


Eighteen patients had LT. All were highly dependent before LT (median mRS score 5). Neurologic symptoms were severe (median UWDRS score 105), dominated by dystonia and parkinsonism. The cumulated survival rate was 88.8% at 1 year and 72.2% at 3 and 5 years. At the last follow-up, 14 patients were alive. Their mRS and UWDRS scores improved (p < 0.0001 and p = 0.0003). Eight patients had a major improvement (78% decrease of the UWDRS score), 4 a moderate one (41% decrease), and 2 a stable status. KFR and brain MRI scores improved (p = 0.0007). Severe sepsis (p = 0.011) and intensive care unit admission (p = 0.001) before LT were significantly associated with death.


LT is a rescue therapeutic option that should be carefully discussed in selected patients with neurologic WD resistant to anticopper therapies (chelators or zinc salts) as it might allow patients to gain physical independency with a reasonable risk.

Classification of evidence

This study provides Class IV evidence that for patients with WD with severe neurologic worsening resistant to active pharmacologic therapy, LT might decrease neurologic impairment.

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