Hepatic cirrhosis is a life-threatening disease arising from different chronic liver disorders. One major cause for hepatic cirrhosis is chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C is characterized by a highly variable clinical course, with at least 20% developing liver cirrhosis within 40 years. Only liver biopsy allows a reliable evaluation of the course of hepatitis C by grading inflammation and staging fibrosis, and thus serum biomarkers for hepatic fibrosis with high sensitivity and specificity are needed. To identify new candidate biomarkers for hepatic fibrosis, we performed a proteomic approach of microdissected cirrhotic septa and liver parenchyma cells. In cirrhotic septa, we detected an increasing expression of cell structure associated proteins, including actin, prolyl 4-hydroxylase, tropomyosin, calponin, transgelin, and human microfibril-associated protein 4 (MFAP-4). Tropomyosin, calponin, and transgelin reflect a contribution of activated stellate cells/myofibroblasts to chronic liver injury. The expression of tropomyosin, transgelin, and MFAP-4, an extracellular matrix associated protein, were further evaluated by immunohistochemistry. Tropomyosin and MFAP-4 demonstrated high serum levels in patients with hepatic cirrhosis of different causes.
Conclusion: A quantitative analysis of MFAP-4 serum levels in a large number of patients showed MFAP-4 as novel candidate biomarker with high diagnostic accuracy for prediction of nondiseased liver versus cirrhosis [area under receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) = 0.97, P < 0.0001] as well as stage 0 versus stage 4 fibrosis (AUC = 0.84, P < 0.0001), and stages 0 to 3 versus stage 4 fibrosis (AUC = 0.76, P < 0.0001).