Hepatic iron is the major determinant of serum ferritin in NAFLD patients

John D. Ryan, Andrew E. Armitage, Jeremy F. Cobbold, Rajarshi Banerjee, Oscar Borsani, Paola Dongiovanni, Stefan Neubauer, Reza Morovat, Lai Mun Wang, Sant Rayn Pasricha, Silvia Fargion, Jane Collier, Eleanor Barnes, Hal Drakesmith, Luca Valenti, Michael Pavlides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Aims: Elevated serum ferritin is common in NAFLD, and is associated with more advanced disease and increased mortality. Hyperferritinaemia 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 hyperferritinaemia 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-173
JournalLiver International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • MRI
  • Ferritin
  • Hepcidin
  • Liver iron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology


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