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Circulating hormones in biopsy-proven steatotic liver disease and steatohepatitis.

BACKGROUND: The role of metabolic/inflammatory hormonal systems in metabolic dysfunction associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD) remains to be fully elucidated.

PURPOSE: To report the levels of the novel total and H-specific growth differentiation factor-15 (GDF-15) and other established hormonal systems and to describe hormonal patterns in controls and patients with MASLD and its stages.

METHODS: This is a multicenter study from two Gastroenterology-Hepatology Departments (Greece and Australia) and one Bariatric-Metabolic Surgery Department (Italy). Overall, n = 455 serum samples of patients with biopsy-proven MASLD (n = 374) and Controls (n = 81) were recruited.

RESULTS: We report for the first time that total and H-specific GDF-15 levels are higher in MASLD, at-risk metabolic dysfunction associated steatohepatitis (MASH) and severe fibrosis than in Controls. In addition, follistatin-like-3 (FSTL-3), free insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), leptin, and insulin levels were higher in MASLD patients than in Controls, while adiponectin levels were lower in MASLD subjects than in Controls. Activin-A, follistatin (FST), FSTL-3, and insulin levels significantly increased in severe fibrosis compared to no/mild fibrosis, while free IGF-1 decreased. In addition, adiponectin levels were lower in subjects without fibrosis vs. any fibrosis. Moreover, GDF-15 presented a strong positive association for the likelihood of having MASLD and at-risk MASH, while in adjusted analyses, FST and adiponectin showed inverse associations. Two different patterns of at-risk MASH were revealed through unsupervised analysis (total variation explained = 54 %). The most frequent pattern met in our sample (34.3 %) was characterized by higher levels of total and H-specific GDF-15, follistatins, and activins, as well as low adiponectin levels. The second pattern revealed was characterized by high levels of free IGF-1, insulin, and leptin, with low levels of activin-A and adiponectin. Similar patterns were also generated in the case of overall MASLD.

CONCLUSIONS: Total and H-specific GDF-15 levels increase as MASLD severity progresses. FSTL-3, free IGF-1, leptin, and insulin are also higher, whereas adiponectin and activin-A levels are lower in the MASLD group than in Controls. Hormonal systems, including GDF-15, may not only be involved in the pathophysiology but could also prove useful for the diagnostic workup of MASLD and its stages and may potentially be of therapeutic value.

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