Servicio de Medicina Interna, Hospital Universitario de Canarias, Universidad de La Laguna, Ofra s/n, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
Steatohepatitis is a common finding in chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. As in other forms of steatohepatitis, oxidative damage may play an outstanding role. However, there are conflicting results relative to the role of iron on hepatic lipogenesis. Proinflammatory cytokines up-regulate ferritin expression, probably reflecting a defensive mechanism against increased oxidative stress, capable to open haem ring and release reactive iron. On the contrary, some adipokines, such as adiponectin, are associated with low ferritin levels. The aim of this study is to analyse the relationships of the amount of liver steatosis with serum iron, transferrin and ferritin as well as with proinflammatory cytokines, such as tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α and interleukin (IL)-6, and adiponectin levels. We included 82 HCV infected patients and assessed the amount of liver fat by histomorphometry and its relationships with serum iron, ferritin and transferrin, adiponectin and TNF-α and IL-6. Liver steatosis was observed in 67 patients out of 82; in the remaining 15 patients, no steatosis at all was found. Patients with steatosis showed significantly higher serum ferritin levels than patients without steatosis (Z = 2.14; p = 0.032). When patients were classified in quartiles according to the intensity of steatosis, we observed that both TNF-α (KW = 10.6; p = 0.014) and IL-6 (KW = 15.2; p = 0.002) were significantly different among the four groups. Patients with more intense steatosis (highest quartile) showed the highest TNF-α and IL-6 values. Patients with severe hepatitis had higher levels of serum iron than patients with mild to moderate hepatitis. Serum iron also showed a correlation with the proportion of fibrosis (ρ = 0.30; p = 0.007). Serum iron levels are related with biochemical and histological parameters derived from liver inflammation in HCV-associated liver disease. Serum ferritin is higher among those with intense steatosis and also shows a (non-significant) trend to be associated with the more severe forms of hepatitis.