Metallothionein immunohistochemistry has high sensitivity and specificity for detection of Wilson disease

Daniel J. Rowan, Kiran K. Mangalaparthi, Smrita Singh, Roger K. Moreira, Taofic Mounajjed, Laura Lamps, Maria Westerhoff, Jerome Cheng, Andrew M. Bellizzi, Daniela S. Allende, Akhilesh Pandey, Rondell P. Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Diagnosis of Wilson disease (WD) can be difficult because of its protean clinical presentations, but early diagnosis is important because effective treatment is available and can prevent disease progression. Similarly, diagnosis of WD on liver biopsy specimens is difficult due to the wide range of histologic appearances. A stain that could help identify WD patients would be of great value. The goal of this study was to use mass spectrometry-based proteomics to identify potential proteins that are differentially expressed in WD compared to controls, and could serve as potential immunohistochemical markers for screening. Several proteins were differentially expressed in WD and immunohistochemical stains for two (metallothionein (MT) and cytochrome C oxidase copper chaperone (COX17)) were tested and compared to other methods of diagnosis in WD including copper staining and quantitative copper assays. We found diffuse metallothionein immunoreactivity in all liver specimens from patients with WD (n = 20); the intensity of the staining was moderate to strong. This staining pattern was distinct from that seen in specimens from the control groups (none of which showed strong, diffuse staining), which included diseases that may be in the clinical or histologic differential of WD (steatohepatitis (n = 51), chronic viral hepatitis (n = 40), autoimmune hepatitis (n = 50), chronic biliary tract disease (n = 42), and normal liver (n = 20)). COX17 immunostain showed no significant difference in expression between the WD and control groups. MT had higher sensitivity than rhodanine for diagnosis of WD. While the quantitative liver copper assays also had high sensitivity, they require more tissue, have a higher cost, longer turnaround time, and are less widely available than an immunohistochemical stain. We conclude that MT IHC is a sensitive immunohistochemical stain for the diagnosis of WD that could be widely deployed as a screening tool for liver biopsies in which WD is in the clinical or histologic differential diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)946-955
Number of pages10
JournalModern Pathology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Metallothionein immunohistochemistry has high sensitivity and specificity for detection of Wilson disease'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this