Background: The changes in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) range over a wide spectrum, extending from steatosis to steatohepatitis (NASH). However, it has remained difficult to differentiate between NASH and nonprogressive NAFLD by clinical examination. We investigated the interrelationships between serum high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) and the pathogenesis and progression of NASH.
Methods: Hs-CRP was measured in 100 patients with histologically verified NAFLD (29 with steatosis and 71 with NASH), and a real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis was performed to measure the intrahepatic mRNA expressions of CRP and interleukin (IL)-6.
Results: The results of a multiple regression analysis revealed that in comparison with cases of steatosis, hs-CRP was significantly elevated (P = 0.0048) in cases of NASH. Furthermore, among patients with NASH, hs-CRP was significantly elevated in those with advanced fibrosis compared with that in those with mild fibrosis (P = 0.0384), even after adjustment for age, sex, presence of diabetes, body mass index, visceral fat area, subcutaneous fat area, homeostasis model assessment for insulin resistance, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglyceride, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The results of the RT-PCR analysis showed that intrahepatic mRNA expression of CRP, but not IL-6, was increased in patients with NASH compared with those with steatosis (P = 0.0228).
Conclusions: This is the first report to demonstrate consistent and profound elevation of hs-CRP in cases of NASH compared with in cases of simple nonprogressive steatosis. Our results suggest that hs-CRP may be a clinical feature that not only distinguishes NASH from simple nonprogressive steatosis but also indicates the severity of hepatic fibrosis in cases of NASH.