Changes in abdominal adipose tissue depots assessed by MRI correlate with hepatic histologic improvement in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis

Published:November 07, 2022DOI:


      • This is a secondary analysis of a subgroup of patients who had MRI exams in the FLINT trial.
      • Those with NASH who experienced a greater loss of deep subcutaneous adipose tissue showed greater histologic improvement.
      • Patients with greater loss of visceral adipose tissue probably also had greater levels of histologic improvement.

      Background & Aims

      Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is prevalent in adults with obesity and can progress to cirrhosis. In a secondary analysis of prospectively acquired data from the multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled FLINT trial, we investigated the relationship between reduction in adipose tissue compartment volumes and hepatic histologic improvement.


      Adult participants in the FLINT trial with paired liver biopsies and abdominal MRI exams at baseline and end-of-treatment (72 weeks) were included (n = 76). Adipose tissue compartment volumes were obtained using MRI.


      Treatment and placebo groups did not differ in baseline adipose tissue volumes, or in change in adipose tissue volumes longitudinally (p = 0.107 to 0.745). Deep subcutaneous adipose tissue (dSAT) and visceral adipose tissue volume reductions were associated with histologic improvement in NASH (i.e., NAS [non-alcoholic fatty liver disease activity score] reductions of ≥2 points, at least 1 point from lobular inflammation and hepatocellular ballooning, and no worsening of fibrosis) (p = 0.031, and 0.030, respectively). In a stepwise logistic regression procedure, which included demographics, treatment group, baseline histology, baseline and changes in adipose tissue volumes, MRI hepatic proton density fat fraction (PDFF), and serum aminotransferases as potential predictors, reductions in dSAT and PDFF were associated with histologic improvement in NASH (regression coefficient = -2.001 and -0.083, p = 0.044 and 0.033, respectively).


      In adults with NASH in the FLINT trial, those with greater longitudinal reductions in dSAT and potentially visceral adipose tissue volumes showed greater hepatic histologic improvements, independent of reductions in hepatic PDFF.

      Clinical trial number


      Impact and implications

      Although central obesity has been identified as a risk factor for obesity-related disorders including insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease, the role of central obesity in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) warrants further clarification. Our results highlight that a reduction in central obesity, specifically deep subcutaneous adipose tissue and visceral adipose tissue, may be related to histologic improvement in NASH. The findings from this analysis should increase awareness of the importance of lifestyle intervention in NASH for clinical researchers and clinicians. Future studies and clinical practice may design interventions that assess the reduction of deep subcutaneous adipose tissue and visceral adipose tissue as outcome measures, rather than simply weight reduction.

      Graphical abstract


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