Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common cause of chronic non-viral liver disease. YKL-40, chitinase-like protein expressed in multiple tissues including liver, is involved in cell proliferation, inflammation and remodeling of the extracellular matrix. The aim of this study was to assess whether serum YKL-40 levels are associated with liver fibrosis in NAFLD patients. Serum YKL-40 levels were quantified in 111 NAFLD patients and 23 HCC patients with NAFLD. To identify the source of YKL-40, immunofluorescence staining of liver specimens from NAFLD patients was performed. Serum YKL-40 levels in NAFLD patients increased in accordance with the progression of liver fibrosis. Multivariate analysis revealed that YKL-40 was one of the independent factors significantly associated with severe fibrosis (F3-4). We established a new predictive model for fibrosis of NAFLD, using logistic regression analysis: YKL-40 based fibrosis score = -0.0545 + type IV collagen 7s ∗ 0.3456 + YKL-40 ∗ 0.0024. Serum YKL-40 levels of HCC patients with non-cirrhotic NAFLD were significantly higher than those without HCC. Immunofluorescence staining showed that YKL-40 was expressed by macrophages in liver tissue of NAFLD patients. In conclusion, macrophage-derived YKL-40 is a feasible biomarker of liver fibrosis in NAFLD patients.
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