Fetuin-A is a pro-inflammatory protein expressed by hepatocytes. Its course in morbidly obese patients with NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) following weight loss by BAS (bariatric surgery) has not been fully elucidated yet. In the present study, we prospectively examined the effects of weight loss on various metabolic factors at 4 weeks and 6 months after surgery. Blood and liver tissues were retrieved from 108 morbidly obese NAFLD patients before/during BAS, and 50 of these individuals met the criteria for NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis). Fetuin-A expression was measured by qPCR (quantitative real-time PCR), Western blotting and immunohistochemistry. Hepatocyte apoptosis was quantified via M30 (caspase-cleaved cytokeratin-18 fragments). Plasma concentrations of adiponectin and fetuin-A were determined by ELISA. Serum-derived parameters were additionally taken at 4 weeks and 6 months post-operatively. In addition, primary human hepatocytes were treated with NEFA (non-esterified fatty acid) to investigate changes in fetuin-A. BMI (body mass index) decreased significantly from 53.0 +/- 1.1 to 36.4 +/- 1.9 kg/m(2) in the NAFL group and from 53.3 +/- 1.1 to 37.6 +/- 1.2 kg/m(2) in the NASH group (P < 0.0001) at 6 months post-surgery. This was associated with diminishing M30 and M65 (total cytokeratin-18) levels over 6 months after surgery. Adiponectin levels increased continuously in NASH patients, whereas NAFL patients plateaued at 4 weeks post-operatively. Hepatic fetuin-A mRNA and protein expression was elevated before surgery-induced weight loss. However, plasma concentrations of fetuin-A increased signficantly in NASH patients 4 weeks post-operatively. Treatment of hepatocytes with NEFA led to up-regulation of fetuin-A expression. BAS probably has a beneficial effect on NAFLD, as indicated by reduced hepatocyte apoptosis and improved adipokine profiles. In addition, fetuin-A expression is more prominent in NASH.