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Clinical cancer research


PURPOSE: Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive cutaneous neuroendocrine carcinoma that can be divided into two classes: virus-positive (VP) MCC, associated with oncogenic Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV); and virus-negative (VN) MCC, associated with photodamage.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: We classified 346 MCC tumors from 300 patients for MCPyV using a combination of IHC, ISH, and qPCR assays. In a subset of tumors, we profiled mutation status and expression of cancer-relevant genes. MCPyV and molecular profiling results were correlated with disease-specific outcomes. Potential prognostic biomarkers were further validated by IHC.

RESULTS: A total of 177 tumors were classified as VP-MCC, 151 tumors were VN-MCC, and 17 tumors were indeterminate. MCPyV positivity in primary tumors was associated with longer disease-specific and recurrence-free survival in univariate analysis, and in multivariate analysis incorporating age, sex, immune status, and stage at presentation. Prioritized oncogene or tumor suppressor mutations were frequent in VN-MCC but rare in VP-MCC.

CONCLUSIONS: MCPyV status is an independent prognostic factor for MCC. Features of the tumor genome, transcriptome, and microenvironment may modify prognosis in a manner specific to viral status. MCPyV status has clinicopathologic significance and allows for identification of additional prognostic subgroups.

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ePub ahead of print