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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Noninvasive biomarkers for the diagnosis of steatohepatitis and advanced fibrosis in NAFLD

Steven G Pearce, Nirav C Thosani and Jen-Jung Pan*

Author Affiliations

Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Department of Internal Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, 6431 Fannin Street, MSB 4.234, Houston, TX 77030, USA

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Biomarker Research 2013, 1:7  doi:10.1186/2050-7771-1-7

Published: 4 February 2013


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common cause of abnormal liver enzymes in both adults and children. NAFLD has a histologic spectrum ranging from simple steatosis to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), advanced fibrosis, and cirrhosis. It is imperative to distinguish simple steatosis from NASH since the latter has a progressive disease course and can lead to end-stage liver disease. Liver biopsy has been considered as the gold standard for the diagnosis of NASH. However, liver biopsy is invasive, costly, and can rarely cause significant morbidity (risk of morbidity, 0.06-0.35%; risk of mortality, 0.1-0.01%). Imaging studies such as ultrasonography, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging have limited sensitivity in detecting steatosis and cannot distinguish steatosis from NASH. Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) has been used as a surrogate marker for liver injuries. However, ALT is not an ideal marker for either diagnosis of NAFLD or distinguishing steatosis from NASH. Better noninvasive biomarkers or panels of biomarkers that are cheaper, reliable, and reproducible are urgently needed for patients with NASH to assist in establishing diagnosis, providing risk information, and monitoring disease progression and treatment response. In this article, we plan to concisely review the current advances in the use of biomarkers for the diagnosis of NASH.

Biomarker; Noninvasive; NAFLD; NASH; Fibrosis