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J Clin Gastroenterol. 2010 Jul;44(6):440-7. doi: 10.1097/MCG.0b013e3181bdefe2.

Serum fragmented cytokeratin 18 levels reflect the histologic activity score of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease more accurately than serum alanine aminotransferase levels.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Oncology, Institute on Aging and Adaptation, Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine, Asahi, Matsumoto, Japan.



Reliable noninvasive biomarkers to assess the histologic activity of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) have not been established. As the frequency of Mallory bodies is known to be closely associated with the disease severity, we hypothesized that serum levels of Mallory body-related proteins were correlated with NAFLD histologic activity and evaluated this possibility.


Serum levels of total and fragmented cytokeratin (CK) 18, heat shock protein (Hsp) 70, Hsp90alpha, ubiquitin+1, and p38alpha at the time of liver biopsy were measured in 118 NAFLD patients and their association with histologic findings and NAFLD histologic activity score (NAS) was investigated.


Serum levels of both forms of CK18 and Hsp90alpha were markedly higher in patients having nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) compared with non-NASH ones. Both forms of CK18 significantly correlated with degree of steatosis, lobular inflammation, and ballooning, and showed stronger positive correlations with NAS than serum aspartate and alanine aminotransferase (AST and ALT). Multiple regression analysis further revealed that fragmented CK18 and AST were effective predictors of NAS, with the former being the more definitive of the two (P<0.001 vs. 0.005). In 20 NAFLD patients who received a follow-up biopsy, changes in fragmented CK18 levels, but not AST or ALT levels, closely paralleled those in NAS.


These results establish the usefulness of fragmented CK18 measurement for assessing and monitoring the histologic activity of NAFLD.

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