Background & Aims: Identifying fibrosis in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is essential to predict liver-related outcomes and guide treatment decisions. A protein-based signature of fibrosis could serve as a valuable, non-invasive diagnostic tool. This study sought to identify circulating proteins associated with fibrosis in NAFLD. Methods: We used aptamer-based proteomics to measure 4,783 proteins in 2 cohorts (Cohort A and B). Targeted, quantitative assays coupling aptamer-based protein pull down and mass spectrometry (SPMS) validated the profiling results in a bariatric and NAFLD cohort (Cohort C and D, respectively). Generalized linear modeling-logistic regression assessed the ability of candidate proteins to classify fibrosis. Results: From the multiplex profiling, 16 proteins differed significantly by fibrosis in cohorts A (n = 62) and B (n = 98). Quantitative and robust SPMS assays were developed for 8 proteins and validated in Cohorts C (n = 71) and D (n = 84). The A disintegrin and metalloproteinase with thrombospondin motifs like 2 (ADAMTSL2) protein accurately distinguished non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL)/non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) with fibrosis stage 0-1 (F0-1) from at-risk NASH with fibrosis stage 2-4, with AUROCs of 0.83 and 0.86 in Cohorts C and D, respectively, and from NASH with significant fibrosis (F2-3), with AUROCs of 0.80 and 0.83 in Cohorts C and D, respectively. An 8-protein panel distinguished NAFL/NASH F0-1 from at-risk NASH (AUROCs 0.90 and 0.87 in Cohort C and D, respectively) and NASH F2-3 (AUROCs 0.89 and 0.83 in Cohorts C and D, respectively). The 8-protein panel and ADAMTSL2 protein had superior performance to the NAFLD fibrosis score and fibrosis-4 score. Conclusion: The ADAMTSL2 protein and an 8-protein soluble biomarker panel are highly associated with at-risk NASH and significant fibrosis; they exhibited superior diagnostic performance compared to standard of care fibrosis scores. Lay Summary: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one of the most common causes of liver disease worldwide. Diagnosing NAFLD and identifying fibrosis (scarring of the liver) currently requires a liver biopsy. Our study identified novel proteins found in the blood which may identify fibrosis without the need for a liver biopsy.
- non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- non-alcoholic steatohepatitis
ASJC Scopus subject areas