Accurate staging of liver fibrosis is crucial to guide therapeutic decisions for patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Digital image analysis has emerged as a promising tool for quantitative assessment of fibrosis in chronic liver diseases. We sought to determine the relationship of histologic fibrosis stage with fiber amounts quantified in liver biopsy specimens for the better understanding of NAFLD progression. We measured area ratios of collagen and elastin fibers in Elastica van Gieson-stained biopsy tissues from 289 patients with NAFLD from four hospitals using an automated computational method and examined their correlations with Brunt's fibrosis stage. As a secondary analysis, we performed multivariable logistic regression analysis to assess the associations of the combined area ratios of collagen and elastin with noninvasive fibrosis markers. The combined fiber area ratios correlated strongly with Brunt's stage (Spearman correlation coefficient, 0.78; P < 0.0001), but this relationship was nonlinear (P = 0.007) with striking differences between stage 4 (median area ratios, 12.3%) and stages 0-3 (2.1%, 2.8%, 4.3%, and 4.8%, respectively). Elastin accumulation was common in areas of thick bridging fibrosis and thickened venous walls but not in areas of perisinusoidal fibrosis. The highest tertile of the combined fiber area ratios was associated with the fibrosis-4 index and serum type IV collagen 7s domain (7s collagen) levels, whereas the upper two tertiles of the fiber amounts significantly associated with body mass index, aspartate aminotransferase, and 7s collagen in the multivariable analysis. Conclusion: Quantitative fibrosis assessment reveals a nonlinear relationship between fibrosis stage and fiber amount, with a marked difference between stage 4 and stage 3 and much smaller differences among stages 0-3, suggesting a heterogeneity in disease severity within NAFLD-related cirrhosis. (Hepatology Communications 2018;2:58–68).
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