Non-invasive tests accurately stratify patients with NAFLD based on their risk of liver-related events

J Hepatol. 2022 May;76(5):1013-1020. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2021.12.031. Epub 2022 Jan 19.


Background & aims: Previous studies on the prognostic significance of non-invasive liver fibrosis tests in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) lack direct comparison to liver biopsy. We aimed to evaluate the prognostic accuracy of fibrosis-4 (FIB4) and vibration-controlled transient elastography (VCTE), compared to liver biopsy, for the prediction of liver-related events (LREs) in NAFLD.

Methods: A total of 1,057 patients with NAFLD and baseline FIB4 and VCTE were included in a multicenter cohort. Of these patients, 594 also had a baseline liver biopsy. The main study outcome during follow-up was occurrence of LREs, a composite endpoint combining cirrhosis complications and/or hepatocellular carcinoma. Discriminative ability was evaluated using Harrell's C-index.

Results: FIB4 and VCTE showed good accuracy for the prediction of LREs, with Harrell's C-indexes >0.80 (0.817 [0.768-0.866] vs. 0.878 [0.835-0.921], respectively, p = 0.059). In the biopsy subgroup, Harrell's C-indexes of histological fibrosis staging and VCTE were not significantly different (0.932 [0.910-0.955] vs. 0.881 [0.832-0.931], respectively, p = 0.164), while both significantly outperformed FIB4 for the prediction of LREs. FIB4 and VCTE were independent predictors of LREs in the whole study cohort. The stepwise FIB4-VCTE algorithm accurately stratified the risk of LREs: compared to patients with "FIB4 <1.30", those with "FIB4 ≥1.30 then VCTE <8.0 kPa" had similar risk of LREs (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 1.3; 95% CI 0.3-6.8), whereas the risk of LREs significantly increased in patients with "FIB4 ≥1.30 then VCTE 8.0-12.0 kPa" (aHR 3.8; 95% CI 1.3-10.9), and even more for those with "FIB4 ≥1.30 then VCTE >12.0 kPa" (aHR 12.4; 95% CI 5.1-30.2).

Conclusion: VCTE and FIB4 accurately stratify patients with NAFLD based on their risk of LREs. These non-invasive tests are alternatives to liver biopsy for the identification of patients in need of specialized management.

Lay summary: The amount of fibrosis in the liver is closely associated with the risk of liver-related complications in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Liver biopsy currently remains the reference standard for the evaluation of fibrosis, but its application is limited by its invasiveness. Therefore, we evaluated the ability of non-invasive liver fibrosis tests to predict liver-related complications in NAFLD. Our results show that the blood test FIB4 and transient elastography stratify the risk of liver-related complications in NAFLD, and that transient elastography has similar prognostic accuracy as liver biopsy. These results support the use of non-invasive liver fibrosis tests instead of liver biopsy for the management of patients with NAFLD.

Keywords: FIB4; Fibroscan; NAFLD; fibrosis; liver-related event; prognosis.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Elasticity Imaging Techniques* / methods
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Liver / diagnostic imaging
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diagnosis
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / complications
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / diagnosis