Objective: Allelic variation (rs738409C[RIGHTWARDS ARROW]G) in adiponutrin (patatin-like phospholipase domain-containing protein 3, PNPLA3) has been associated with hepatic steatosis and liver fibrosis. The physiologic impact of the PNPLA3 G allele may be exacerbated in patients with severe obesity. In this study, we investigated the interactions of PNPLA3 rs738409 with a broad panel of metabolic and histologic characteristics of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) in patients with medically complicated obesity.

Design and Methods: Consecutive patients undergoing bariatric surgery were selected for a prospective study. They underwent extensive laboratory and histologic (liver biopsy) assessment, as well as evaluation of rs738409 polymorphism by TaqMan assay.

Results: Only 12 (8.3%) of the 144 patients had normal liver histology, with 72 (50%) NASH, of whom 15 (10.4% of total patients) had fibrosis stage 2-3. PNPLA3 GG genotype correlated positively (P < 0.05) with serum levels of alanine aminotransferase (ALT), asparate aminotransferase (AST), glucose, fibrinogen, and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, homeostasis model assessment—insulin resistance, and presence of NASH. Multivariate analysis indicated that PNPLA3 rs738409 G versus C allele remained an (independent) risk factor for NASH, in addition to CK-18 >145 IU/l, glucose >100 mg/dl, and C-reactive protein (CRP) >0.8 mg/dl. The probability of NASH increased from 9% (no risk factor) to 82% if all four risk factors were present.

Conclusions: In this cohort of patients with medically complicated obesity, PNPLA3 rs738409 G allelic expression is associated with hepatic (NASH) and nonhepatic complications of obesity, such as insulin resistance. These novel findings may be related to a greater impact of PNPLA3 variant in magnitude and scope in patients with severe obesity than in less obese populations. Further studies are needed to characterize the nature of these associations.