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Concept: Merkel cell cancer


Several molecular imaging modalities have been evaluated in the management of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare and aggressive tumor with a high tendency to metastasize. Continuous progress in the field of molecular imaging might improve management in these patients. The authors review the current modalities and their impact on MCC in this brief review article.

Concepts: The Current, Cancer, Merkel cell, Merkel cell cancer


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive skin cancer with a high mortality rate. The majority of MCC (70-80%) harbor clonally integrated Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV) in the tumor genome and express viral T antigen oncoproteins. The characterization of an early passage MCV-positive MCC cell line MS-1 is described, and its cellular, immunohistochemical, and virological features to MCV-negative (UISO, MCC13, and MCC26) and MCV-positive cell lines (MKL-1 and MKL-2) were compared. The MS-1 cellular genome harbors integrated MCV, which preserves an identical viral sequence from its parental tumor. Neither VP2 gene transcripts nor VP1 protein are detectable in MS-1 or other MCV-positive MCC cell lines tested. Mapping of viral and cellular integration sites in MS-1 and MCC tumor samples demonstrates no consistent viral or cellular gene integration locus. All MCV-positive cell lines show cytokeratin 20 positivity and grow in suspension. When injected subcutaneously into NOD scid gamma (NSG) mice, MS-1 forms a discrete macroscopic tumor. Immunophenotypic analysis of the MS-1 cell line and xenografts in mice show identical profiles to the parental tumor biopsy. Hence, MS-1 is an early passage cell line that provides a useful in vitro model to characterize MCV-positive MCC.

Concepts: Mortality rate, Protein, Polyomavirus, Cancer, Merkel cell polyomavirus, Cell, Merkel cell cancer, Gene


Merkel cell polyomavirus is a novel polyomavirus that is monoclonally integrated into genomes of up to 80% of human Merkel cell carcinomas. Merkel cell polyomavirus-positive Merkel cell carcinomas showed less metastatic tendency and better prognosis according to some reports, whereas others disagree. In this study, we analyzed clinicopathological characteristics of 20 Merkel cell polyomavirus-positive and 6 Merkel cell polyomavirus-negative Merkel cell carcinoma cases, in which we already reported the association of Merkel cell polyomavirus infection with statistically significant morphological differences. Immunohistochemical expressions of cell cycle-related proteins, mutations of the TP53 tumor-suppressor gene (exons 4-9) and p14ARF promoter methylation status as well as detailed clinical data were analyzed and compared between Merkel cell polyomavirus-positive and Merkel cell polyomavirus-negative cases. Merkel cell polyomavirus-positive Merkel cell carcinomas showed better prognosis with one spontaneous regression case and significantly higher expression of retinoblastoma protein (P = .0003) and less p53 expression (P = .0005) compared to Merkel cell polyomavirus-negative Merkel cell carcinomas. No significant differences were found in expressions of p63, MDM2, p14ARF or MIB-1 index, and p14ARF promoter methylation status. Interestingly, frequency of TP53 non-ultraviolet signature mutation was significantly higher in Merkel cell polyomavirus-negative Merkel cell carcinomas than in Merkel cell polyomavirus-positive Merkel cell carcinomas (P = .036), whereas no significant difference was detected in TP53 ultraviolet signature mutations between two groups. These results suggest that Merkel cell polyomavirus-positive and -negative Merkel cell carcinomas likely develop through different tumorigenic pathways and that the presence or absence of Merkel cell polyomavirus in the tumor is still an important factor that affects survival in patients with Merkel cell carcinoma.

Concepts: Mdm2, Gene, P53, Merkel cell polyomavirus, Merkel cell cancer, Statistical significance, DNA, Cancer


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive cutaneous malignancy linked to a contributory virus (Merkel cell polyomavirus). Multiple epidemiologic studies have established an increased incidence of MCC among persons with systemic immune suppression. Several forms of immune suppression are associated with increased MCC incidence, including hematologic malignancies, HIV/AIDS, and immunosuppressive medications for autoimmune disease or transplant. Indeed, immune-suppressed individuals represent ∼10% of MCC patients, a significant overrepresentation relative to the general population. We hypothesized that immune-suppressed patients may have a poorer MCC-specific prognosis and examined a cohort of 471 patients with a combined follow-up of 1,427 years (median 2.1 years). Immune-suppressed patients (n=41) demonstrated reduced MCC-specific survival (40% at 3 years) compared with patients with no known systemic immune suppression (n=430; 74% MCC-specific survival at 3 years). By competing risk regression analysis, immune suppression was a stage-independent predictor of worsened MCC-specific survival (hazard ratio 3.8, P<0.01). Thus, immune-suppressed individuals have both an increased chance of developing MCC and poorer MCC-specific survival. It may be appropriate to follow these higher-risk individuals more closely, and, when clinically feasible, there may be a benefit of diminishing iatrogenic systemic immune suppression.Journal of Investigative Dermatology advance online publication, 29 November 2012; doi:10.1038/jid.2012.388.

Concepts: Immunology, Merkel cell polyomavirus, Polyomavirus, Immunosuppressive drug, Cancer, Merkel cell cancer, Immune system, Epidemiology


BACKGROUND: Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare neuroendocrine cancer of the skin. The utility of CD99 (MIC-2) in the diagnosis of MCC has been previously studied, with reported rates of expression ranging from 13 to 55%. When specified, a membranous or cytoplasmic staining pattern was considered significant. Recent studies of CD99 have identified a paranuclear dot-like expression pattern in certain non-neuroendocrine pancreatic and colonic lesions. We recently noted paranuclear dot-like staining in several cases of MCC, including cases lacking cytokeratin 20 (CK20) expression. METHODS: Fourteen cases of MCC were stained with CK20 and CD99 antibody, and the pattern and intensity of staining were recorded. Seven cases of pulmonary small cell carcinoma (PSCC) and one case of primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET) were used for comparison. RESULTS: All 14 cases of MCC showed at least focal CD99 staining, with both membranous and paranuclear dot-like staining patterns identified. CK20 staining was present in 12/14 cases, with the characteristic dot-like pattern identified. Four of seven cases of PSCC showed CD99 staining, with two showing a finely granular dot-like staining pattern. CONCLUSIONS: We report an unusual pattern of paranuclear dot-like expression of CD99 in 14 cases of MCC, two of which did not express CK20. This previously unrecognized expression pattern may be of use in differentiating MCC from other cutaneous malignancies, especially when CK20 expression is limited or absent.

Concepts: Small cell carcinoma, Merkel cell, Neuroendocrine tumor, Primitive neuroectodermal tumor, Types of cancer, Merkel cell cancer, Oncology, Cancer


The mammalian hair follicle unit consists of a central follicle and a series of associated structures: sebaceous glands, arrector pili muscles, Merkel cells, and sensory nerve endings. The architecture of this multicellular structure is highly polarized with respect to the body axes. Previous work has implicated Frizzled6 (Fz6)-mediated planar cell polarity (PCP) signaling in the initial specification of hair follicle orientation. Here we investigate the origin of polarity information among structures within the hair follicle unit. Merkel cell clusters appear to have direct access to Fz6-based polarity information, and they lose polarity in the absence of Fz6. By contrast, the other follicle-associated structures likely derive some or all of their polarity cues from hair follicles, and as a result, their orientations closely match that of their associated follicle. These experiments reveal the interplay between global and local sources of polarity information for coordinating the spatial arrangement of diverse multicellular structures. They also highlight the utility of mammalian skin as a system for quantitative analyses of biological polarity.

Concepts: Merkel cell cancer, Merkel cell, Skin anatomy, Hair follicle, Sebaceous gland, Skin


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive skin cancer that is associated with poor survival outcomes in patients with distant metastatic disease. Results of part A of the JAVELIN Merkel 200 trial (avelumab in patients with Merkel cell carcinoma) showed that avelumab, an anti-programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) antibody, demonstrated efficacy in second-line or later treatment of patients with metastatic MCC (mMCC).

Concepts: Melanoma, Cancer staging, Merkel cell, Merkel cell cancer, Types of cancer, Squamous cell carcinoma, Lung cancer, Cancer


To assess the association between tumor response and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in patients with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma treated with the anti-PD-L1 avelumab.

Concepts: Life, Quality of life, The Association, Quality, Cancer, Merkel cell, Merkel cell cancer


The human skin is a complex ecosystem that hosts a heterogeneous flora. Until recently, the diversity of the cutaneous microbiota was mainly investigated for bacteria through culture based assays subsequently confirmed by molecular techniques. There are now many evidences that viruses represent a significant part of the cutaneous flora as demonstrated by the asymptomatic carriage of beta and gamma-human papillomaviruses on the healthy skin. Furthermore, it has been recently suggested that some representatives of the Polyomavirus genus might share a similar feature. In the present study, the cutaneous virome of the surface of the normal-appearing skin from five healthy individuals and one patient with Merkel cell carcinoma was investigated through a high throughput metagenomic sequencing approach in an attempt to provide a thorough description of the cutaneous flora, with a particular focus on its viral component. The results emphasize the high diversity of the viral cutaneous flora with multiple polyomaviruses, papillomaviruses and circoviruses being detected on normal-appearing skin. Moreover, this approach resulted in the identification of new Papillomavirus and Circovirus genomes and confirmed a very low level of genetic diversity within human polyomavirus species. Although viruses are generally considered as pathogen agents, our findings support the existence of a complex viral flora present at the surface of healthy-appearing human skin in various individuals. The dynamics and anatomical variations of this skin virome and its variations according to pathological conditions remain to be further studied. The potential involvement of these viruses, alone or in combination, in skin proliferative disorders and oncogenesis is another crucial issue to be elucidated.

Concepts: Skin, Evolution, Species, Merkel cell cancer, DNA, Virus, Bacteria, Polyomavirus


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, aggressive skin cancer associated with poor survival outcomes in patients with distant metastatic disease (mMCC). In an initial analysis from JAVELIN Merkel 200, a phase 2, prospective, open-label, single-arm trial in mMCC, avelumab-a human anti-programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) monoclonal antibody-showed promising efficacy and a safety profile that was generally manageable and tolerable. Here, we report the efficacy of avelumab after ≥1 year of follow-up in patients with distant mMCC that had progressed following prior chemotherapy for metastatic disease.

Concepts: Merkel cell cancer, Oncology, Metastasis, Breast cancer, Squamous cell carcinoma, Lung cancer, Melanoma, Cancer