Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has emerged as the most common cause of chronic liver disease worldwide. Multiple diagnostic noninvasive methods for NAFLD were studied (both serological and imaging), either single or combined. Attention has been focused on cytokeratin-18 (CK18) as a novel serological marker for the diagnosis of steatosis/fibrosis in NAFLD and hepatitis C virus (HCV) patients.
The aim of this study was to evaluate serum CK18 in NAFLD and HCV fibrosis/steatosis and also to correlate its performance with the diagnostic accuracy of transient elastography (TE) and controlled attenuation parameter (CAP) in the diagnosis of fibrosis/steatosis in these patients.
Patients and methods
Three equal groups of participants were enrolled (n=135): group I included patients with chronic HCV, group II included NAFLD patients, and group III included control participants. For all groups, TE/CAP and labs including serum CK18 were performed. Liver biopsy was performed for the NAFLD group.
Serum CK18 was significantly higher in the NAFLD group (19.01±3.49 ng/ml) versus the HCV group (8.95±1.06 ng/ml) and the control group (4.83±1.6 ng/ml) (P<0.001). The CK18 levels in biopsy stages (steatosis, ballooning, inflammation, and fibrosis) and FibroScan/CAP degrees showed that CK18 increased significantly with steatosis and fibrosis stages (biopsy or FibroScan/CAP), but did not reach significance with ballooning or inflammation grades. CK18 was significantly different in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis versus non-nonalcoholic steatohepatitis patients (P=0.041). The best CK18 cutoff to detect steatosis (S≥2) in NAFLD and HCV was 11.65 and 6.84 ng/ml, respectively with an overall sensitivity and specificity over 97%. The CK18 cutoff for significant fibrosis (F≥2) by FibroScan in the NAFLD/HCV groups was 9.115 ng/ml, with 62.5%/69.2% sensitivity/specificity (P=0.031). However, inflammation had a cutoff with a marginal P value (P=0.080), and a reliable cutoff for ballooning was not attained (P=0.386). There was a positive correlation between CK18 and fibrosis (by FibroScan) in the NAFLD and HCV groups (P<0.05). The correlation between CK18 and steatosis in CAP and the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease activity score was very good (P<0.001).
Serum CK18 is related strongly to the development/progression of NAFLD and HCV-related fibrosis/steatosis. TE was correlated highly with liver biopsy results. The combination of CK18 with other noninvasive modalities increases the diagnostic yield of these tests.