Context: Neurotensin (NT), an intestinal peptide released by fat ingestion, promotes lipid absorption; higher circulating NT levels are associated with type 2 diabetes (T2D), obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Whether NT is related to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) has not been fully investigated.
Objective: To study the relationship between plasma proneurotensin 1 to 117 (pro-NT), a stable fragment of the NT precursor hormone, and the presence/severity of NAFLD/NASH and to unravel correlates of increased pro-NT levels.
Design/setting/participants: For this cross-sectional study, 60 obese individuals undergoing bariatric surgery for clinical purposes were recruited. The association between pro-NT and NAFLD was further investigated in 260 consecutive subjects referred to our outpatient clinics for metabolic evaluations, including liver ultrasonography. The study population underwent complete metabolic characterization; in the obese cohort, liver biopsies were performed during surgery.
Main outcome measures: Plasma pro-NT levels in relation to NAFLD/NASH.
Results: Obese subjects with biopsy-proven NAFLD (53%) had significantly higher plasma pro-NT than those without NAFLD (183.6 ± 81.4 vs 86.7 ± 56.8 pmol/L, P < 0.001). Greater pro-NT correlated with NAFLD presence (P < 0.001) and severity (P < 0.001), age, female sex, insulin resistance, and T2D. Higher pro-NT predicted NAFLD with an area under receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.836 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.73 to 0.94; P < 0.001]. Belonging to the highest pro-NT quartile correlated with increased NAFLD risk (odds ratio, 2.62; 95% CI, 1.08 to 6.40) after adjustment for confounders. The association between higher pro-NT and NAFLD was confirmed in the second cohort independently from confounders.
Conclusions: Increased plasma pro-NT levels identify the presence/severity of NAFLD; in dysmetabolic individuals, NT may specifically promote hepatic fat accumulation through mechanisms likely related to increased insulin resistance.