The 2019 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes suggested that patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) should be evaluated for liver fibrosis. However, the performance of noninvasive clinical models/scores and plasma biomarkers for the diagnosis of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and advanced fibrosis has not been carefully assessed in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).
In this cross-sectional study, patients (n = 213) had a liver MRS, and those with a diagnosis of NAFLD underwent a percutaneous liver biopsy. Several noninvasive clinical models/scores and plasma biomarkers were measured to identify NASH and advanced fibrosis (NASH: ALT, cytokeratin-18, NashTest 2, HAIR, BARD, and OWLiver; advanced fibrosis: AST, fragments of propeptide of type III procollagen [PRO-C3], FIB-4, APRI, NAFLD fibrosis score, and FibroTest).
None of the noninvasive tools assessed for the diagnosis of NASH in patients with T2DM had an optimum performance (all areas under the curve [AUCs] <0.80). Of note, none of the panels or biomarkers was able to outperform plasma ALT (AUC 0.78 [95% CI 0.71–0.84]). Performance was better to diagnose advanced fibrosis, in which plasma PRO-C3, AST, and APRI showed better results than the other approaches (AUC 0.90 [0.85–0.95], 0.85 [0.80–0.91], and 0.86 [0.80–0.91], respectively). Again, none of the approaches did significantly better than plasma AST. Sequential use of plasma AST and other noninvasive tests may help in limiting the number of liver biopsies required to identify patients with advanced fibrosis.
Performance of noninvasive clinical models/scores and plasma biomarkers for the diagnosis of NASH or advanced fibrosis was suboptimal in patients with T2DM. Combination of multiple tests may provide an alternative to minimize the need for liver biopsies to detect fibrosis in these patients.