Several circulating cytokines are increased with obesity and may combine with the influence of visceral fat to generate insulin resistance, inflammation, and fibrosis in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Little information exists in NAFLD about three recently recognized tissue-derived cytokines that are all lipid-binding and involved in inflammation, namely adipocyte fatty acid-binding protein (AFABP), lipocalin-2, and retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4). We examined the association of these three peptides with hepatic steatosis, inflammation, and fibrosis plus indices of adiposity, insulin resistance, and dyslipidaemia in 100 subjects with NAFLD and 129 matched controls. Levels of AFABP and lipocalin-2, but not RBP4, were significantly elevated in NAFLD versus control (AFABP, 33.5 +/- 14.4 versus 23.1 +/- 12.1 ng/mL [P < 0.001]; lipocalin-2, 63.2 +/- 26 versus 48.6 +/- 20 ng/mL [P < 0.001]) and correlated with indices of adiposity. AFABP correlated with indices of subcutaneous rather than visceral fat. AFABP alone distinguished steatohepatitis from simple steatosis (P= 0.02). Elevated AFABP independently predicted increasing inflammation and fibrosis, even when insulin resistance and visceral fat were considered; this applied to lobular inflammation and ballooning (odds ratio 1.4, confidence interval 1.0-1.8) and fibrosis stage (odds ratio 1.3, confidence interval 1.0-1.7) (P < or = 0.05 for all). None of the cytokines correlated with steatosis grade. AFABP levels correlated with insulin resistance (homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance) in controls and NAFLD, whereas lipocalin-2 and RBP4 only correlated positively with insulin resistance in controls. CONCLUSION: Circulating AFABP, produced by adipocytes and macrophages, and lipocalin-2, produced by multiple tissues, are elevated and may contribute to the metabolic syndrome in NAFLD. AFABP levels, which correlate with subcutaneous, but not visceral fat, independently predict inflammation and fibrosis in NAFLD and may have a direct pathogenic link to disease progression.
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