D-penicillamine did not reduce the risk of mortality of patients with primary biliary cirrhosis but increased the occurrences of adverse events

Primary biliary cirrhosis is an uncommon, chronic liver disease of unknown etiology. D-penicillamine, a cupruretic drug, has been tested in randomised clinical trials and is used to treat patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. After combining results from seven trials, D-penicillamine did not appear to improve survival of patients. D-penicillamine was associated with a four-time increase of adverse events. There were no significant differences between D-penicillamine and placebo/no intervention with respect to clinical changes, liver histology, and liver biochemistry.

Authors' conclusions: 

D-penicillamine did not appear to reduce the risk of mortality, but significantly increased the occurrences of adverse events in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. We do not support the use of D-penicillamine for patients with primary biliary cirrhosis.

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D-penicillamine is used for patients with primary biliary cirrhosis due to its hepatic copper decreasing and immunomodulatory potentials. The results from randomised clinical trials have been inconsistent.


To systematically review the beneficial and harmful effects of D-penicillamine for patients with primary biliary cirrhosis.

Search strategy: 

We identified trials through electronic searches of The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register (September 2003), The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials on The Cochrane Library (Issue 3, 2003), MEDLINE (January 1966 to September 2003), EMBASE (January 1980 to September 2003), The Chinese Biomedical CD Database (January 1979 to August 2003), and LILACS (1982 to 2003); through manual searches of bibliographies; and by contacting authors of the trials and pharmaceutical companies.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised clinical trials comparing D-penicillamine with placebo/no intervention or other control intervention irrespective of language, year of publication, and publication status.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers independently assessed the methodological quality of the trials and extracted data, validated by a third reviewer. The primary outcomes were 1) mortality and 2) a combination of those who died or underwent liver transplantation. We analysed dichotomous outcomes as relative risk (RR) with 95% confidence interval (CI) by a fixed effect model and a random effects model. We investigated sources of heterogeneity by subgroup analyses and tested the robustness of our findings by sensitivity analyses.

Main results: 

We included seven trials randomising 706 patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. D-penicillamine compared with placebo/no intervention tended to increase mortality (RR 1.34, 95% CI 1.09 to 1.64, fixed; RR 1.46, 95% CI 0.85 to 2.50, random). However, there was substantial heterogeneity. No significant differences were detected regarding the risks of mortality or liver transplantation, pruritus, liver complications, progression of liver histological stage, or the levels of liver biochemical variables (except alanine aminotransferase). D-penicillamine versus placebo/no intervention significantly increased the risk of adverse events (RR 3.11, 95% CI 2.33 to 4.16, fixed; RR 4.18, 95% CI 1.38 to 12.69, random).