AIM: Non-invasive tests for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are needed for assessing disease stage, prognosis and treatment efficacy. Extracellular matrix biomarkers, such as PRO-C3, are useful as biomarkers of advanced liver fibrosis. However, non-invasive biomarkers of early-stage NAFLD, characterized by pericellular fibrosis, are lacking. Here, we measured serological biomarkers of type IV and VIII collagens reflecting the remodeling of the pericellular basement membrane to explore the effect of bariatric surgery on pericellular fibrosis in patients with early NAFLD.
METHODS: Seventy patients with severe obesity underwent bariatric surgery. The cohort consisted of 61% females who had a mean age of 44. Patients had a median NAFLD activity score of 3 and mild-to-moderate fibrosis F0 (3%), F1 (86%), and F2 (11%). Blood samples were taken at baseline, three, six and 12 months after surgery. At 12 months, 40 patients had a follow-up liver biopsy. The biomarkers PRO-C3, PRO-C4, C4M, and PRO-C8 were measured using indirect competitive ELISAs.
RESULTS: Twelve months after surgery patients had significantly lower levels of ALT, GGT, HbA1c, fasting glucose, and CRP. The pericellular fibrosis biomarkers, C4M, PRO-C4, and PRO-C8 decreased by 24%, 18% and 44%, respectively (p<0.0001), while the interstitial matrix fibrosis marker PRO-C3 remained unchanged. Furthermore, baseline C4M was associated with histologically assessed hepatocyte ballooning and lobular inflammation in patients with (p=0.032) and without (p=0.032) steatosis, respectively.
CONCLUSION: Biomarkers of pericellular fibrosis decrease in early-stage NAFLD after patients undergo bariatric surgery and potentially reflect an improvement in liver histology.