BACKGROUND AND AIM:
Detection of advanced fibrosis (Metavir F≥3) is important to identify patients with a high urgency of antiviral treatments vs. those whose treatment could be deferred (F≤2). The aim was to assess the diagnostic value of novel serological extracellular matrix protein fragments as potential biomarkers for clinically significant and advanced fibrosis.

METHODS:
Specific protein fragments of matrix metalloprotease degraded type I, III, IV and VI collagen (C1M, C3M, C4M, C6M) and type III and IV collagen formation (Pro-C3 and P4NP7S) were assessed in plasma from 403 chronic hepatitis C patients by specific ELISAs. Patients were stratified according to Metavir Fibrosis stage; F0 (n = 46), F1 (n = 161), F2 (n = 95), F3 (n = 44) and F4 (n = 33) based on liver biopsy.

RESULTS:
Pro-C3 was significantly elevated in patients with significant fibrosis (≥F2) compared to F0-F1 (p<0.05), while the markers C3M, C4M, C6M and P4NP7S were significantly elevated in patients with advanced fibrosis (≥F3) compared to F0-F2 (p<0.05). C1M showed no difference between fibrosis stages. Using Receiver Operating Characteristics analysis, the best marker for detecting ≥F2 and ≥F3 was Pro-C3 with AUC = 0.75 and AUC = 0.86. Combination of Pro-C3 and C4M with age, BMI and gender in a multiple ordered logistic regression model improved the diagnostic value for detecting ≥F2 and ≥F3 with AUC = 0.80 and AUC = 0.88.

CONCLUSION:
The Pro-C3 protein fragment provided clinically relevant diagnostic accuracy as a single marker of liver fibrosis. A model combining Pro-C3 and C4M along with patient's age, body mass index and gender increased the diagnostic power for identifying clinically significant fibrosis.