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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Alpha-fetoprotein level as a biomarker of liver fibrosis status: a cross-sectional study of 619 consecutive patients with chronic hepatitis B

Yu-rui Liu1, Bin-bin Lin12, Da-wu Zeng1, Yue-yong Zhu1, Jing Chen1, Qi Zheng1, Jing Dong1* and Jia-ji Jiang1*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Liver Disease, First Affiliated Hospital of Fujian Medical University, Fuzhou 350005, Fujian, China

2 The Second Division of liver diseases, Xiamen Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital, Xianyue Road, No. 1739, Huli District, Xiamen City, Fujian Province 361000, China

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BMC Gastroenterology 2014, 14:145  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-14-145

Published: 16 August 2014

Abstract

Background

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is a serious public health problem worldwide. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels and pathological stages of liver biopsy in patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB).

Methods

The study included 619 patients who were diagnosed with CHB from March 2005 to December 2011. AFP levels were measured by electrochemiluminescence. Liver biopsy samples were classified into five levels of inflammation (G) and fibrosis (S) stages, according to the Chinese guidelines for prevention and treatment of viral hepatitis. Two multivariable ordinal regression models were performed to determine associations between AFP, GGT, and APRI (AST/PLT ratio) and stages of inflammation and fibrosis.

Results

Significant positive and moderate correlations were shown between AFP levels and inflammation stages and between AFP levels and fibrosis stages (ρ = 0.436 and 0.404, p < 0.001). Median values of AFP at liver fibrosis stages S0-1, S2, S3, and S4 were 3.0, 3.4, 5.4, and 11.3 ng/ml, respectively, and median APRI (AST/PLT ratio) was 0.41. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analyses revealed that the areas under the curves (AUCs) were 0.685, 0.727, and 0.755 (all p <0.001) for judging inflammation stages of G ≥ 2, G ≥ 3, G = 4 by AFP; and 0.691, 0.717, and 0.718 (all p <0.001) for judging fibrosis stages of S ≥ 2, S ≥ 3, and S = 4 by AFP. APRI levels showed significant positive and moderate correlations with inflammation stages (ρ = 0.445, p < 0.001). AST, GGT, and APRI levels showed significant positive but very weak to weak correlations with fibrosis stages (ρ = 0.137, 0.237, 0.281, p < 0.001).

Conclusions

Serum AFP levels increased as pathological levels of inflammation and fibrosis increased in CHB patients. Our data showed the clinical significance of serum AFP levels in diagnosing liver inflammation and fibrosis. Assessment of liver pathology may be improved by creating a predictive mathematical model by which AFP levels with other biomarkers.

Keywords:
Alpha-fetoprotein; Fibrosis; Hepatitis B; Chronic; Inflammation