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BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Elevated serum ferritin is common in NAFLD, and is associated with more advanced disease and increased mortality. Hyperferritinemia in NAFLD is often attributed to inflammation, while in other conditions ferritin closely reflects body iron stores. The aim of this study was to clarify the underlying cause of hyperferritinemia in NAFLD. METHODS: Ferritin levels were examined with markers of iron status, inflammation and liver injury across the clinical spectrum of NAFLD using blood, tissue and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. A separate larger group of NAFLD patients with hepatic iron staining and quantification were used for validation. RESULTS: Serum ferritin correlated closely with the iron regulatory hormone hepcidin, and liver iron levels determined by MR. Furthermore, ferritin levels reflected lower serum adiponectin, a marker of insulin resistance, and liver fat, but not cytokine or CRP levels. Ferritin levels differed according to fibrosis stage, increasing from early to moderate disease, and declining in cirrhosis. A similar pattern was found in the validation cohort of NAFLD patients, where ferritin levels were highest in those with macrophage iron deposition. Multivariate analysis revealed liver iron and hepcidin levels as the major determinants of serum ferritin. CONCLUSIONS: While hyperferritinaemia is associated with markers of liver injury and insulin resistance, serum hepcidin and hepatic iron are the strongest predictors of ferritin levels. These findings highlight the role of disordered iron homeostasis in the pathogenesis of NAFLD, suggesting that therapies aimed at correcting iron metabolism may be beneficial. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Liver Int

Publication Date



MRI, NAFLD, Ferritin, Hepcidin, liver iron