1 Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.
2 Division of Hepatology, Department of Internal Medicine II, University Hospital Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany.
3 Department of Internal Medicine I, University Medical Center Mainz, Mainz, Germany.
4 Sana Kliniken Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany.
5 Interfaculty Institute of Biochemistry, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany.
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and fibrosis play critical roles for the prognosis of patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Identification of patients at risk of NASH and fibrosis is therefore critical for disease management. NAFLD Fibrosis Score (NFS) and transient elastography (TE) have been suggested to exclude advanced fibrosis. However, there is increasing evidence that also patients with NASH and early fibrosis are at risk of disease progression and complications, emphasizing the need for improved noninvasive risk stratification in NAFLD.
Because hepatocyte apoptosis plays an early role in NASH pathogenesis, we evaluated whether the apoptosis biomarker M30 might identify NAFLD patients who are at risk of NASH and fibrosis despite low NFS or TE values. Serum M30 levels were assessed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in combination with NFS and/or TE in an exploration (n = 103) and validation (n = 100) cohort of patients with biopsy-proven NAFLD.
Most patients with low NFS (cutoff value < -1.455) revealed increased M30 levels (>200 U/L) in the exploration (62%) and validation (67%) cohort, and more than 70% of them had NASH, mostly with histological fibrosis. Vice versa, most patients with NFS < -1.455 but nonelevated M30 levels showed no NASH. NASH was also detected in most patients with indeterminate NFS (-1.455 to 0.676) but elevated M30 levels, from which ∼90% showed fibrosis. Similar results were obtained when using TE instead of NFS.
The combination of the M30 biomarker with NFS or TE enables a more reliable identification of patients with an increased risk of progressed NAFLD and improves patient stratification.