Primary liver injury and delayed resolution of liver stiffness after alcohol detoxification in heavy drinkers with the PNPLA3 variant I148M

World J Hepatol. 2016 Dec 18;8(35):1547-1556. doi: 10.4254/wjh.v8.i35.1547.


Aim: To investigate the influence of PNPLA3 genotype in heavy drinkers on serum markers and liver stiffness (LS) during alcohol withdrawal and its association with histology.

Methods: Caucasian heavy drinkers (n = 521) with a mean alcohol consumption of 192.1 g/d (median alcohol consumption: 169.0 g/d; 95%CI: 179.0-203.3) were enrolled at the Salem Medical Center, University of Heidelberg. LS was measured by transient elastography (Fibroscan, Echosens SA, Paris, France). LS and serum markers were prospectively studied in these patients with all stages of alcoholic liver disease (steatosis, steatohepatitis, fibrosis) prior and after alcohol detoxification with a mean observation interval of 6.2 ± 3.2 d. A liver biopsy with histological analysis including the Kleiner score was obtained in 80 patients.

Results: The PNPLA3 rs738409 genotype distribution for CC, CG and GG was 39.2%, 52.6% and 8.2%. GG genotype primarily correlated with histological steatohepatitis (r = 0.404, P < 0.005), ballooning (r = 0.319, P < 0.005) and less with steatosis (r = 0.264, P < 0.05). Mean LS was lowest in CC carriers (13.1 kPa) as compared to CG and GG carriers (17.6 and 17.2 kPa). Notably, LS primarily correlated with fibrosis stage (r = 0.828, P < 0.005), ballooning (r = 0.516, P < 0.005), steatohepatitis (r = 0.319, P < 0.005) but not with steatosis. After alcohol withdrawal, LS did not change in CC carriers, significantly decreased in CG-carriers from 17.6 to 12.7 kPa but to a lesser extent in GG carriers from 17.6 to 14.5 kPa. This was due to prolonged resolution of inflammation with significantly elevated aspartate transaminase levels after alcohol withdrawal in GG carriers. Non-invasive fibrosis assessment by LS in all patients showed a significantly higher F0 rate as compared to the biopsy cohort (47% vs 6%) with 3.8% more CC carriers while 3.7% less were seen in the F4 cirrhosis group. Thus, about 20% of patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis would be attributable to PNPLA3 G variants. The OR to develop cirrhosis corrected for age, gender and body mass index was 1.295 (95%CI: 0.787-2.131) for CG + GG carriers.

Conclusion: In heavy drinkers, PNPLA3 GG primarily correlates with ballooning/steatohepatitis but not steatosis resulting in a delayed inflammation-associated resolution of LS. Consequently, sustained ballooning-associated LS elevation seems to be a potential risk factor for fibrosis progression in PNPLA3 GG carriers.

Keywords: Adiponutrin; Alcohol withdrawal; Alcoholic liver disease; Inflammation; Liver stiffness; PNPLA3; Transient elastography.