Copper is an essential nutrient required for normal growth and development in many organisms. In humans, the disruption of normal copper absorption and excretion is associated with two severe disorders, known as Menkes disease and Wilson disease, respectively. The consequences of insufficient copper supply that is characteristic of Menkes disease have been largely linked to the inactivation of key metabolic enzymes, although other non-enzymatic processes may also be involved. In contrast, the consequences of copper accumulation in Wilson disease have been generally ascribed to copper-induced radical-mediated damage. Recent studies suggest that the cellular response to copper overload, particularly at the early stages of copper accumulation, involves more specific mechanisms and specific pathways. Genetic and metabolic characterization of animal models of Wilson disease has provided new insights into the pre-symptomatic effects of copper that is accumulated in the liver. The studies have uncovered unexpected links between copper metabolism, cell-cycle machinery, and cholesterol biosynthesis. We discuss these new findings along with the earlier reports on dietary effects of copper. Together these experiments suggest a tight link between lipid and copper metabolism and identify several candidate proteins that may mediate the cross-talk between copper status and lipid metabolism.
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