Pathology of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis

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To date, histologic evaluation, most commonly in the form of liver biopsy, remains the gold standard in evaluation of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Histologic evaluation was fundamental to the initial studies that introduced and defined the concept of fatty liver as a liver disease. Currently, liver biopsy in NAFLD serves multiple roles: confirmation (or exclusion) of the diagnosis; distinction of steatohepatitis from "simple steatosis" assessment of extent of necroinflammatory activity, fibrosis, and architectural alterations. Histopathologic studies have underscored the fact that not all obese and/ or diabetic individuals with elevated liver tests have fatty liver disease; for example, hepatic glycogenosis and hepatosclerosis have been described in diabetics, and other significant liver diseases have been documented. Likewise biopsy studies have documented lesions of steatosis or steatohepatitis in unusual patient groups or clinical settings, such as lean individuals, individuals with normal liver tests, patients taking certain medications, patients with co-existent serologically-diagnosed liver disease, and pediatric patients. Biopsy studies have shown that the lesions of NASH may or may not persist in cirrhosis; prior evidence of NASH on liver biopsy serves as a benchmark for the concept that many cases of otherwise cryptogenic cirrhosis developed from NAFLD/NASH. Liver biopsy remains a significant feature of studies delineating long-term outcome of NAFLD, some of which have shown that "simple steatosis" is not always non-progressive and benign. Finally, investigators have noted correlations of proposed pathophysiologic processes in NASH with particular histologic features. Therapeutic trials for NASH rely on histologic evaluation as the most sensitive analysis to document effects of treatment. Treatment trials afford an opportunity to evaluate histologic features of resolution, and these trials have also provided an opportunity for correlations of particular histologic lesions with clinical and laboratory features in well-characterized patient populations. These kinds of studies are currently relatively few, but results of a recent study have reinforced the concept of necessary criteria for diagnosis. Current discussions in pathology include identification of lesions of concern for progression, reproducible methods of diagnosis and semiquantification of lesions, and appropriate nomenclature. Matteoni et al. proposed NAFLD types 1-4 based on long-term outcome studies; Brunt et al. proposed a system of grading and staging for NASH that follows methods of separate assessment for necroinflammatory lesions (grade) and fibrosis (stage) accepted in other forms of non-biliary chronic liver disease. Recently, the Pathology Committee of the NIDDK NASH Clinical Research Network has proposed a system of evaluation that encompasses the entire spectrum of NAFLD from steatosis to steatohepatitis with fibrosis for use in upcoming treatment trials. And, just as the clinician cannot distinguish steatosis and steatohepatitis, the pathologist cannot discern if alcohol abuse may be an underlying cause of the lesions. Proposed nomenclature to align with either extant terminology in other forms of chronic liver disease, or to align with our knowledge of underlying cause(s) (such as metabolic syndrome) will be discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-71
Number of pages4
JournalHepatology Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2005


  • Ballooning
  • Grading
  • Mallory's hyaline
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis
  • Pathology
  • Perisinusoidal fibrosis
  • Staging
  • Steatosis


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