In the absence of surrogate markers, the evaluation of suspected nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is highly dependent on histological examination. The extent of sampling variability affecting the reliability of a single liver biopsy in patients with suspected NAFLD is poorly characterized. This prospective study aimed to correlate precise histological findings in paired biopsies - right and left lobe - in the diagnosis of NAFLD in morbidly obese subjects undergoing bariatric surgery employing both Brunt and Matteoni classifications and the NAFLD Activity Score (NAS). We also aimed to determine whether the composite histopathological findings of the two biopsies would improve diagnostic accuracy. Consecutive subjects had an intraoperative biopsy from both right and left lobes, evaluated and scored in a blinded manner. Intraobserver agreement was also assessed. Kappa coefficients of agreement were calculated. Forty-one subjects had acceptable biopsies. Agreement for steatosis was excellent and moderate for fibrosis. Concordance was only fair for most features of necroinflammation. Intraobserver agreement was only moderate for lobular inflammation. Excellent agreement was seen for the diagnosis of NASH using Brunt criteria and good agreement when using Matteoni and NAS scoring systems. Composite biopsy data particularly improved identification of hepatocyte ballooning. The diagnostic accuracy also improved substantially when composite features were compared with single-sided biopsy features, especially for the Matteoni and NAS scoring systems. In conclusion, significant sampling variability occurs in NAFLD, particularly for features of necroinflammation. This should be factored into the design of clinical trials and studies of the natural history of the disease.
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