Background: YKL-40 (human cartilage glycoprotein-39, or 38-kDa heparin-binding glycoprotein) is a mammalian member of a protein family that includes bacterial chitinases. YKL-40 mRNA is expressed by human liver and may play a role in tissue remodelling. The aims were to assess whether circulating YKL-40 is released or extracted in the hepatosplanchnic system and to localize YKL-40 in liver tissue.
Methods: Plasma YKL-40 was determined by radioimmunoassay in 25 patients with liver diseases (alcoholic cirrhosis (n = 20), chronic active hepatitis (n = 2), cirrhosis of unknown aetiology (n = 2), and fatty liver (n = 1) and in 18 subjects with normal liver function during a haemodynamic investigation with catheterization of liver vein and the femoral artery. Immunohistochemical studies of the localization of YKL-40 in cryostal liver biopsy specimens were obtained from eight other patients with alcoholic liver disease.
Results: Plasma YKL-40 was significantly increased in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis (median, 523 micrograms/l; P < 0.001) compared with controls (106 micrograms/l), and plasma YKL-40 in the hepatic vein was higher (P < 0.01) than that of the artery in both the patients and controls, showing release of YKL-40 from the hepatosplanchnic area. The release rate of YKL-40 from the hepatosplanchnic area was higher in patients with liver disease than in controls (11.0 versus 2.1 micrograms/min, P < 0.05). Furthermore, the highest plasma YKL-40 levels were found in patients with a moderate or severe degree of liver fibrosis, and immunohistochemical studies showed positive staining for YKL-40 antigen in areas of the liver biopsy with fibrosis.
Conclusions: The increased plasma YKL-40 in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis may reflect the remodelling of liver fibrosis.