Noninvasive Diagnosis of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Quantification of Liver Fat Using a New Quantitative Ultrasound Technique

Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2015 Jul;13(7):1337-1345.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2014.11.027. Epub 2014 Dec 3.


Background & aims: Liver biopsy analysis is the standard method used to diagnose nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Advanced magnetic resonance imaging is a noninvasive procedure that can accurately diagnose and quantify steatosis, but is expensive. Conventional ultrasound is more accessible but identifies steatosis with low levels of sensitivity, specificity, and quantitative accuracy, and results vary among technicians. A new quantitative ultrasound (QUS) technique can identify steatosis in animal models. We assessed the accuracy of QUS in the diagnosis and quantification of hepatic steatosis, comparing findings with those from magnetic resonance imaging proton density fat fraction (MRI-PDFF) analysis as a reference.

Methods: We performed a prospective, cross-sectional analysis of a cohort of adults (N = 204) with NAFLD (MRI-PDFF, ≥5%) and without NAFLD (controls). Subjects underwent MRI-PDFF and QUS analyses of the liver on the same day at the University of California, San Diego, from February 2012 through March 2014. QUS parameters and backscatter coefficient (BSC) values were calculated. Patients were assigned randomly to training (n = 102; mean age, 51 ± 17 y; mean body mass index, 31 ± 7 kg/m(2)) and validation (n = 102; mean age, 49 ± 17 y; body mass index, 30 ± 6 kg/m(2)) groups; 69% of patients in each group had NAFLD.

Results: BSC (range, 0.00005-0.25 1/cm-sr) correlated with MRI-PDFF (Spearman ρ = 0.80; P < .0001). In the training group, the BSC analysis identified patients with NAFLD with an area under the curve value of 0.98 (95% confidence interval, 0.95-1.00; P < .0001). The optimal BSC cut-off value identified patients with NAFLD in the training and validation groups with 93% and 87% sensitivity, 97% and 91% specificity, 86% and 76% negative predictive values, and 99% and 95% positive predictive values, respectively.

Conclusions: QUS measurements of BSC can accurately diagnose and quantify hepatic steatosis, based on a cross-sectional analysis that used MRI-PDFF as the reference. With further validation, QUS could be an inexpensive, widely available method to screen the general or at-risk population for NAFLD.

Keywords: AUC; Biomarker; Chronic Liver Disease; Diagnostic; Hepatic Steatosis; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • California
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fatty Liver / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver / diagnostic imaging*
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / diagnosis*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography