Performance of non-invasive tests and histology for the prediction of clinical outcomes in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: an individual participant data meta-analysis

Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2023 Aug;8(8):704-713. doi: 10.1016/S2468-1253(23)00141-3. Epub 2023 Jun 5.


Background: Histologically assessed liver fibrosis stage has prognostic significance in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and is accepted as a surrogate endpoint in clinical trials for non-cirrhotic NAFLD. Our aim was to compare the prognostic performance of non-invasive tests with liver histology in patients with NAFLD.

Methods: This was an individual participant data meta-analysis of the prognostic performance of histologically assessed fibrosis stage (F0-4), liver stiffness measured by vibration-controlled transient elastography (LSM-VCTE), fibrosis-4 index (FIB-4), and NAFLD fibrosis score (NFS) in patients with NAFLD. The literature was searched for a previously published systematic review on the diagnostic accuracy of imaging and simple non-invasive tests and updated to Jan 12, 2022 for this study. Studies were identified through PubMed/MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CENTRAL, and authors were contacted for individual participant data, including outcome data, with a minimum of 12 months of follow-up. The primary outcome was a composite endpoint of all-cause mortality, hepatocellular carcinoma, liver transplantation, or cirrhosis complications (ie, ascites, variceal bleeding, hepatic encephalopathy, or progression to a MELD score ≥15). We calculated aggregated survival curves for trichotomised groups and compared them using stratified log-rank tests (histology: F0-2 vs F3 vs F4; LSM: <10 vs 10 to <20 vs ≥20 kPa; FIB-4: <1·3 vs 1·3 to ≤2·67 vs >2·67; NFS: <-1·455 vs -1·455 to ≤0·676 vs >0·676), calculated areas under the time-dependent receiver operating characteristic curves (tAUC), and performed Cox proportional-hazards regression to adjust for confounding. This study was registered with PROSPERO, CRD42022312226.

Findings: Of 65 eligible studies, we included data on 2518 patients with biopsy-proven NAFLD from 25 studies (1126 [44·7%] were female, median age was 54 years [IQR 44-63), and 1161 [46·1%] had type 2 diabetes). After a median follow-up of 57 months [IQR 33-91], the composite endpoint was observed in 145 (5·8%) patients. Stratified log-rank tests showed significant differences between the trichotomised patient groups (p<0·0001 for all comparisons). The tAUC at 5 years were 0·72 (95% CI 0·62-0·81) for histology, 0·76 (0·70-0·83) for LSM-VCTE, 0·74 (0·64-0·82) for FIB-4, and 0·70 (0·63-0·80) for NFS. All index tests were significant predictors of the primary outcome after adjustment for confounders in the Cox regression.

Interpretation: Simple non-invasive tests performed as well as histologically assessed fibrosis in predicting clinical outcomes in patients with NAFLD and could be considered as alternatives to liver biopsy in some cases.

Funding: Innovative Medicines Initiative 2.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / complications
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices*
  • Female
  • Fibrosis
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / complications
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / complications
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / diagnosis
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / pathology