Prognostic non-invasive biomarkers for all-cause mortality in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis

World J Hepatol. 2022 May 27;14(5):1025-1037. doi: 10.4254/wjh.v14.i5.1025.


Background: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) represents a growing public health concern, with patients having higher risk of morbidity and mortality. It has a considerably high prevalence in the general population, estimated 20%-40% in Europe, and is asymptomatic until late in the disease course. It is therefore important to identify and validate tools that predict hard outcomes such as mortality for use in clinical practice in risk-stratifying NAFLD patients.

Aim: To evaluate available evidence on the use of non-invasive test(s) as prognostic factors for mortality in NAFLD.

Methods: We performed electronic searches of Medline and EMBASE (Ovid) until 7th January 2021 of studies in NAFLD populations. Prognostic markers included serum biomarkers, non-invasive scoring systems, and non-invasive imaging. The population included all spectrums of disease severity, including NAFLD and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Outcomes included all-cause, and cardiovascular mortality. All non-invasive tests were synthesised in a narrative systematic review. Finally, we conducted a meta-analysis of non-invasive scoring systems for predicting all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, calculating pooled hazard ratios and 95% confidence (STATA 16.1).

Results: Database searches identified 2850 studies - 24 were included. 16 studies reported non-invasive scoring systems, 10 studies reported individual biomarkers, and 1 study reported imaging modalities. 4 studies on non-invasive scoring systems (6324 participants) had data available for inclusion in the meta-analysis. The non-invasive scoring system that performed best at predicting all-cause mortality was NAFLD fibrosis score (NFS) [pHR 3.07 (1.62-5.83)], followed by fibrosis-4 index [pHR 3.06 (1.54-6.07)], BARD [pHR 2.87 (1.27-6.46)], and AST to platelet ratio index [pHR 1.90 (1.32-2.73)]. NFS was also prognostic of cardiovascular-related mortality [pHR 3.09 (1.78-5.34)].

Conclusion: This study reaffirms that non-invasive scoring systems, especially NFS, are reliable prognostic markers of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality in NAFLD patients. These findings can inform clinical practice in risk stratifying NAFLD patients.

Keywords: Biomarkers; Mortality; Non-invasive; Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis; Prognosis.