Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer. In at least 80% of all MCC, Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) DNA has undergone clonal integration into the host cell genome, and most tumors express the MCPyV large and small T antigens. In all cases of MCC reported to date, the integrated MCPyV genome has undergone mutations in the large T antigen. These mutations result in expression of a truncated large T antigen that retains the Rb binding or LXCXE motif but deletes the DNA binding and helicase domains. However, the transforming functions of full-length and truncated MCPyV large T antigen are unknown. We compared the transforming activities of full-length, truncated, and alternatively spliced 57kT forms of MCPyV large T antigen. MCPyV large T antigen could bind to Rb but was unable to bind to p53. Furthermore, MCPyV-truncated large T antigen was more effective than full-length and 57kT large T antigen in promoting the growth of human and mouse fibroblasts. In contrast, expression of the MCPyV large T antigen C-terminal 100 residues could inhibit the growth of several different cell types. These data imply that the deletion of the C terminus of MCPyV large T antigen found in MCC serves not only to disrupt viral replication but also results in the loss of a distinct growth-inhibitory function intrinsic to this region.
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive cutaneous malignancy linked to a contributory virus (Merkel cell polyomavirus/MCPyV). 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 persons represent approximately 10% of the MCC patients, a significant over-representation 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 1427 years (median 2.1 years). Immune suppressed persons (n=41) demonstrated reduced MCC-specific survival (40% at 3 years) compared to persons 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). Immune-suppressed persons thus 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 benefit of diminishing iatrogenic systemic immune suppression.
Sunlight-induced non-melanoma skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the United States with more than two million cases per year. Several studies have shown an inhibitory effect of caffeine administration on UVB-induced skin cancer in mice, and these studies are paralleled by epidemiology studies that indicate an inhibitory effect of coffee drinking on non-melanoma skin cancer in humans. Strikingly, decaffeinated coffee consumption had no such inhibitory effect. Mechanism studies indicate that caffeine has a sunscreen effect that inhibits UVB-induced formation of thymine dimers and sunburn lesions in the epidermis of mice. In addition, caffeine administration has a biological effect that enhances UVB-induced apoptosis thereby enhancing the elimination of damaged precancerous cells, and caffeine administration also enhances apoptosis in tumors. Caffeine administration enhances UVB-induced apoptosis by p53-dependent and p53-independent mechanisms. Exploration of the p53-independent effect indicated that caffeine administration enhanced UVB-induced apoptosis by inhibiting the UVB-induced increase in ATR-mediated formation of phospho-Chk1 (Ser345) and abolishing the UVB-induced decrease in cyclin B1 which resulted in caffeine-induced premature and lethal mitosis in mouse skin. In studies with cultured primary human keratinocytes, inhibition of ATR with siRNA against ATR inhibited Chk1 phosphorylation and enhanced UVB-induced apoptosis. Transgenic mice with decreased epidermal ATR function that were irradiated chronically with UVB had 69% fewer tumors at the end of the study compared with irradiated littermate controls with normal ATR function. These results, which indicate that genetic inhibition of ATR (like pharmacologic inhibition of ATR via caffeine) inhibits UVB-induced carcinogenesis support the concept that ATR-mediated phosphorylation of Chk1 is an important target for caffeine’s inhibitory effect on UVB-induced carcinogenesis.
sunlight-induced skin cancer; sunscreen; ATR inhibition; upregulation of p53; coffee
Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) is present in approximately 80% of human Merkel cell carcinomas (MCCs). A previous in silico prediction suggested MCPyV encodes a microRNA (miRNA) that may regulate cellular and viral genes.
To determine the presence and prevalence of a putative MCPyV-encoded miRNA in human MCC tumors.
Over 30 million small RNAs from 7 cryopreserved MCC tumors and 1 perilesional sample were sequenced. 45 additional MCC tumors were examined for expression of an MCPyV-encoded mature miRNA by reverse transcription real-time PCR.
An MCPyV-encoded mature miRNA, “MCV-miR-M1-5p”, was detected by direct sequencing in 2 of 3 MCPyV-positive MCC tumors. Although a precursor miRNA, MCV-miR-M1, had been predicted in silico and studied in vitro by Seo et al., no MCPyV-encoded miRNAs have been directly detected in human tissues. Importantly, the mature sequence of MCV-miR-M1 found in vivo was identical in all 79 reads obtained but differed from the in silico predicted mature miRNA by a 2-nucleotide shift, resulting in a distinct seed region and a different set of predicted target genes. This mature miRNA was detected by real-time PCR in 50% of MCPyV-positive MCCs (n=38) and in 0% of MCPyV-negative MCCs (n=13).
MCV-miR-M1-5p is expressed at low levels in 50% of MCPyV-positive MCCs. This virus-encoded miRNA is predicted to target genes that may play a role in promoting immune evasion and regulating viral DNA replication.
MCV-miR-M1; Merkel cell polyomavirus; Merkel cell carcinoma; microRNA
Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) is prevalent in the general population, integrates into most Merkel cell carcinomas (MCCs) and encodes oncoproteins required for MCC tumor growth. We sought to characterize T-cell responses directed against viral proteins that drive this cancer as a step toward immunotherapy.
Intracellular cytokine cytometry, IFN-γ-ELISPOT, and a novel HLA-A*2402-restricted MCPyV tetramer were used to identify and characterize T-cell responses against MCPyV oncoproteins in tumors and blood of MCC patients and control subjects.
We isolated virus-reactive CD8 or CD4 T cells from MCPyV-positive MCC tumors (2 of 6), but not from virus-negative tumors (0 of 4). MCPyV-specific T-cell responses were also detected in the blood of MCC patients (14 of 27) and control subjects (5 of 13). These T cells recognized a broad range of peptides derived from capsid proteins (2 epitopes) and oncoproteins (24 epitopes). HLA-A*2402-restricted MCPyV oncoprotein processing and presentation by mammalian cells led to CD8-mediated cytotoxicity. Virus-specific CD8 T cells were markedly enriched among tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes as compared to blood, implying intact T-cell trafficking into the tumor. While tetramer-positive CD8 T cells were detected in the blood of 2 of 5 HLA-matched MCC patients, these cells failed to produce IFN-γ when challenged ex vivo with peptide.
Our findings suggest that MCC tumors often develop despite the presence of T cells specific for MCPyV T-Ag oncoproteins. The identified epitopes may be candidates for peptide-specific vaccines and tumor- or virus-specific adoptive immunotherapies to overcome immune evasion mechanisms in MCC patients.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a polyomavirus-associated cancer that is strongly linked with T lymphocyte immune suppression in epidemiologic studies. CD8+ T cell infiltration into MCC tumors (intratumoral) has recently been shown to be strongly predictive of improved survival. In contrast, the presence of CD8+ T cells at the border of the tumor (peritumoral) had no independent prognostic value. Spontaneous regression has been reported for MCC approximately one thousand times more often than would be expected given the frequency of this cancer. Many of these events began shortly after biopsy, and in some cases lymphocytic infiltration was described.
To determine whether CD8+ lymphocyte infiltration in MCC tumors is commonly altered by biopsy.33 MCC patients who had microscopic confirmation of MCC on both an initial biopsy and a re-excision specimen were included in this study. Intratumoral and peritumoral CD8 lymphocyte infiltration was quantitated using immunohistochemistry and compared using the paired t-test in biopsy versus re-excision samples. There was a trend toward increased CD8 infiltration after biopsy in a peritumoral (‘stalled’) pattern (p = 0.08), however, biopsy was not associated with a significant increase in CD8 T cells in the clinically more important intratumoral location (p = 0.58).
The initial diagnostic biopsy for MCC does not commonly alter intratumoral CD8+ T cell infiltration, suggesting it does not directly induce immunologic recognition of this cancer. Because CD8 infiltration is typically stable after biopsy, this parameter may be useful to assess the efficacy of future immune therapies for this virus-associated, immunogenic, often-lethal cancer.
A recent report suggested a trend towards more UV-linked skin cancers arising on the left rather than the right side of the body in the United States.
To test whether the reported incidences of two UV-linked skin cancers, malignant melanoma (MM) and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), are greater on the left than the right in the US.
MMs (n = 82,587) and MCCs (n = 2,384) occurring on the left or right side of the face, arm or leg that were reported in the SE*ER registry between 1986–2006 were included for analysis.
MM and MCC were significantly more likely to present on the left than the right (p < 0.01 for both MM and MCC). 53% of arm melanomas, 51% of facial melanomas, and 52% of leg melanomas presented on the left. 55% of arm MCCs, and 52% of facial MCCs presented on the left, while leg MCCs were equally distributed.
National registry data did not provide information regarding sun exposure or driving habits. No equivalent registry data were available for basal or squamous cell carcinoma.
Both melanoma and MCC are significantly more likely to arise on the left than the right, and this effect was most prominent on the arm. Driver’s-side automobile UV exposure (approximately 20-fold stronger on the left than right arm) is a likely contributing factor. It may be prudent to remind skin cancer-prone individuals to take appropriate sun precautions when driving in an automobile.
Merkel cell carcinoma; melanoma; ultraviolet; asymmetric; presentation; automobile
Oral administration of caffeine to mice inhibits UVB-induced carcinogenesis, and these results are paralleled by epidemiology studies indicating that caffeinated coffee and tea intake (but not decaffeinated beverage intake) is associated with decreased incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Topical applications of caffeine to the skin of SKH-1 mice that had previously been treated with UVB inhibited subsequent skin tumor development and stimulated apoptosis in tumors but not in non-tumor areas of the epidermis. The present study sought to determine the basis of these differential effects on tumor vs non-tumor sites that can be induced by caffeine long after all UVB treatment has ceased. The activation status of the ATR/Chk1 pathway in UVB-induced tumors and uninvolved skin was determined by quantitating phospho-Chk1 (Ser317) and induction of lethal mitosis in vivo in the presence and absence of topical caffeine treatment. In the absence of caffeine, we found that UVB-induced tumors often had islands of phospho-Chk1 (Ser317) staining cells that were not present in non-tumor areas of the epidermis. Treatment of mice with topical caffeine significantly diminished phospho-Chk1 (Ser317) staining and increased the number of mitotic cells that expressed cyclin B1 and caspase 3 in tumors, consistent with caffeine-induced lethal mitosis selectively in tumors. We hypothesize that compared to adjacent uninvolved skin, UVB-induced skin tumors have elevated activation of, and dependence on, the ATR/Chk1 pathway long after UVB exposure has ceased and that caffeine can induce apoptosis selectively in tumors by inhibiting this pathway and promoting lethal mitosis.
sunlight-induced skin cancer; cancer chemoprevention; enhanced lethal mitosis
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a polyomavirus-associated skin cancer that is frequently lethal and lacks established prognostic biomarkers. This study sought to identify biomarkers that improve prognostic accuracy and provide insight into MCC biology.
Patients and Methods
Gene expression profiles of 35 MCC tumors were clustered based on prognosis. The cluster of genes overexpressed in good-prognosis tumors was tested for biologic process enrichment. Relevant mRNA expression differences were confirmed by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry. An independent set of 146 nonoverlapping MCC tumors (median follow-up, 25 months among 116 living patients) was employed for biomarker validation. Univariate and multivariate Cox regression analyses were performed.
Immune response gene signatures were prominent in patients with good prognoses. In particular, genes associated with cytotoxic CD8+ lymphocytes were overexpressed in tumors from patients with favorable prognoses. In the independent validation set, cases with robust intratumoral CD8+ lymphocyte infiltration had improved outcomes (100% MCC-specific survival, n = 26) compared with instances characterized by sparse infiltration (60% survival, n = 120). Only stage and intratumoral CD8 infiltration (but not age, sex, or CD8+ lymphocytes localized to the tumor-stroma interface) were significant in both univariate and multivariate Cox regression analyses. Notably, traditional histologic identification of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes was not a significant independent predictor of survival.
Intratumoral CD8+ lymphocyte infiltration can be readily assessed on paraffin-embedded tissue, is independently associated with improved MCC-specific survival, and therefore, may provide prognostic information that enhances established MCC staging protocols.
The management of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) has been complicated by a lack of detailed prognostic data and by the presence of conflicting staging systems.
To determine the prognostic significance of tumor size, clinical vs pathologic nodal evaluation, and extent of disease at presentation and thereby derive the first consensus staging/prognostic system for MCC.
5,823 prospectively enrolled MCC cases from the National Cancer Data Base (NCDB) had follow-up data (median 64 months) and were used for prognostic analyses.
At 5 years, overall survival was 40% and relative survival (compared to age- and sex-matched population data) was 54%. Among all MCC cases, 66% presented with local, 27% with nodal and 7% with distant metastatic disease. For cases presenting with local disease only, smaller tumor size was associated with better survival (stage I: ≤2cm: 66% relative survival at five years; stage II: >2cm: 51%; p<0.0001). Patients with clinically local-only disease and pathologically proven negative nodes had better outcome (76% at five years) than those who only underwent clinical nodal evaluation (59%, p<0.0001).
The NCDB does not capture disease-specific survival. Overall survival for MCC patients was therefore used to calculate relative survival based on matched population data.
Although the majority (68%) of MCC patients in this nationwide cohort did not undergo pathologic nodal evaluation, this procedure may be indicated in many cases as it improves prognostic accuracy and has important treatment implications for those found to have microscopic nodal involvement.
Merkel cell carcinoma; neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin; staging; prognosis; sentinel lymph node biopsy; clinical staging; pathologic staging
Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) is a common infectious agent that is likely involved in the etiology of most Merkel cell carcinomas (MCCs). Serum antibodies recognizing the MCPyV capsid protein, VP1, are detectable at high titer in nearly all MCC patients, and remain stable over time. Although antibodies to the viral capsid indicate prior MCPyV infection, they provide limited clinical insight into MCC because they are also detected in more than half of the general population. We investigated whether antibodies recognizing MCPyV large and small tumor-associated antigens (T-Ags) would be more specifically associated with MCC. Among 530 population control subjects, these antibodies were present in only 0.9% and were of low titer. In contrast, among 205 MCC cases, 40.5% had serum IgG antibodies that recognize a portion of T-Ag shared between small and large T-Ags. Among cases, titers of T-Ag antibodies fell rapidly (approximately 8 fold/year) in patients whose cancer did not recur, while they rose rapidly in those with progressive disease. Importantly, in several patients who developed metastases, the rise in T-Ag titer preceded clinical detection of disease spread. These results suggest that antibodies recognizing T-Ag are relatively specifically associated with MCC, do not effectively protect against disease progression, and may serve as a clinically useful indicator of disease status.
Merkel cell carcinoma; Merkel cell polyomavirus; MCPyV; antibody; biomarker
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive neuroendocrine skin cancer with poorly characterized genetics. We performed high-resolution comparative genomic hybridization on 25 MCC specimens using a high-density oligonucleotide microarray. Tumors frequently carried extra copies of chromosomes 1, 3q, 5p, and 6 and lost chromosomes 3p, 4, 5q, 7, 10 and 13. MCC tumors with less genomic aberration were associated with improved survival (p=0.04). Tumors from 13 of 22 MCC patients had detectable Merkel cell polyomavirus DNA, and these tumors had fewer genomic deletions. Three regions of genomic alteration were of particular interest: a deletion of 5q12-21 occurred in 26% of tumors, a deletion of 13q14-21 was recurrent in 26% of tumors and contains the well-characterized tumor suppressor RB1, and a novel focal amplification at 1p34 was present in 39% of tumors and centers on L-Myc (MYCL1). L-Myc is related to the c-Myc proto-oncogene, has transforming activity, and is amplified in the closely related small cell lung cancer. Normal skin showed no L-Myc expression, while 4/4 MCC specimens tested expressed L-Myc RNA in relative proportion to the DNA copy number gain. These findings suggest several genes that may contribute to MCC pathogenesis, most notably L-Myc.
Merkel cell carcinoma; comparative genomic hybridization; L-Myc; Merkel cell polyomavirus; genetics
Novel approaches to prevent and reverse ultraviolet (UV) damage are needed to combat rising sunlight-induced skin cancer rates. Mouse studies have shown that oral or topical caffeine promotes elimination of UV-damaged keratinocytes via apoptosis and markedly inhibits subsequent skin cancer development. This potentially important therapeutic effect has not been studied in human skin cells. Here we use primary human keratinocytes to examine which of several caffeine effects mediates this process. In these cells, caffeine more than doubled apoptosis after 75 mJ/cm2 of UVB. Selectively targeting two of caffeine’s known effects did not alter UVB-induced apoptosis: inhibition of ATM (ataxia-telangiectasia mutated) and augmentation of cyclic AMP levels. In contrast, siRNA against ATR (ataxia-telangiectasia and Rad3-related) doubled apoptosis after UV through a p53-independent mechanism. Caffeine did not further augment apoptosis after UVB in cells in which ATR had been specifically depleted, suggesting a key target of caffeine in this effect is ATR. Inhibition of a central ATR target, Chk1, via siRNA or a novel highly specific inhibitor (PF610666) also augmented UVB-induced apoptosis. These data suggest that a relevant target of caffeine is the ATR-Chk1 pathway and that inhibiting ATR or Chk1 may have promise in preventing or reversing UV damage.
ATR; Chk1; UV; apoptosis; keratinocytes
Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV or MCPyV) is a recently-discovered human polyomavirus that is implicated in the pathogenesis of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). Although the transmission route for MCV is not yet known, other polyomaviruses, such as BKV, cause non-malignant pathology in the urinary tract. Like MCC, prostate cancer predominantly affects the elderly. Furthermore, prostate cancers and premalignant precursors exhibit chronic inflammation, which suggests a possible infectious involvement. We therefore examined whether MCV might participate in the pathogenesis of prostate cancer.
To determine the presence of MCV RNA in prostate cancer and surrounding stroma or normal prostate tissue.
RNA was extracted from 28 patient-matched cancerous and 28 benign prostate epithelial samples, and 6 additional cancer-adjacent stromal samples. All tissues were laser-capture micro-dissected. DNA and RNA from a sequence-verified MCV-containing MCC tumor served as a positive control. Quantitative reverse-transcription PCR was used to assess the presence or absence of MCV T antigen transcript.
No MCV T antigen was detected in prostate carcinomas, patient-matched benign samples, or tumor-adjacent stroma, with appropriate sensitivity of the assay demonstrated by an MCC tumor.
MCV infection appears unlikely to be a significant factor in prostate carcinogenesis and there is no evidence of the prostate serving as a reservoir for MCV.
Merkel cell; prostate cancer; polyomavirus; MCV; MCPyV
Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) has been detected in approximately 75% of patients with the rare skin cancer Merkel cell carcinoma. We investigated the prevalence of antibodies against MCPyV in the general population and the association between these antibodies and Merkel cell carcinoma.
Multiplex antibody-binding assays were used to assess levels of antibodies against polyomaviruses in plasma. MCPyV VP1 antibody levels were determined in plasma from 41 patients with Merkel cell carcinoma and 76 matched control subjects. MCPyV DNA was detected in tumor tissue specimens by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Seroprevalence of polyomavirus-specific antibodies was determined in 451 control subjects. MCPyV strain–specific antibody recognition was investigated by replacing coding sequences from MCPyV strain 350 with those from MCPyV strain w162.
We found that 36 (88%) of 41 patients with Merkel cell carcinoma carried antibodies against VP1 from MCPyV w162 compared with 40 (53%) of the 76 control subjects (odds ratio adjusted for age and sex = 6.6, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.3 to 18.8). MCPyV DNA was detectable in 24 (77%) of the 31 Merkel cell carcinoma tumors available, with 22 (92%) of these 24 patients also carrying antibodies against MCPyV. Among 451 control subjects from the general population, prevalence of antibodies against human polyomaviruses was 92% (95% CI = 89% to 94%) for BK virus, 45% (95% CI = 40% to 50%) for JC virus, 98% (95% CI = 96% to 99%) for WU polyomavirus, 90% (95% CI = 87% to 93%) for KI polyomavirus, and 59% (95% CI = 55% to 64%) for MCPyV. Few case patients had reactivity against MCPyV strain 350; however, indistinguishable reactivities were found with VP1 from strain 350 carrying a double mutation (residues 288 and 316) and VP1 from strain w162.
Infection with MCPyV is common in the general population. MCPyV, but not other human polyomaviruses, appears to be associated with Merkel cell carcinoma.
A new polyomavirus has been discovered in Merkel cell carcinomas, but does it contribute to carcinogenesis?
A new technique designed to hunt for non-human transcripts has identified a novel SV40-like virus present in the majority of Merkel cell carcinomas. Here we examine what it will take to determine whether or not this virus contributes to carcinogenesis.
Administration of caffeine was shown in earlier studies to enhance UVB-induced apoptosis and inhibit UVB-induced carcinogenesis in hairless SKH-1 mice. Here, we describe a potential mechanism for these in vivo effects. A single irradiation of mouse skin with UVB activated the ataxia-telangiectasia mutated- and Rad3-related (ATR) pathway, causing a severalfold increase in keratinocytes with phospho-Chk1 (Ser345) and a marked decrease in mitotic keratinocytes with cyclin B1 compared with baseline. When given in the drinking water for 1 to 2 weeks before UVB, caffeine (0.4 mg/mL) markedly inhibited the UVB-induced phosphorylation of Chk1 on Ser345 and caused premature expression of cyclin B1 in the epidermis. Normal keratinocytes had delayed mitotic entry for >10 h following UVB. Caffeine administration reduced this mitotic delay to only 4 h and caused markedly increased apoptosis by 6 to 10 h after UVB. p53 knockout mice were used to determine the role of p53 in these processes. Irradiation with UVB markedly decreased the number of mitotic keratinocytes with cyclin B1 in p53 knockout mice, and topical caffeine immediately after UVB abrogated this response and increased UVB-induced apoptosis severalfold. These effects of caffeine in knockout mice were substantially greater than in wild-type mice. The ability of caffeine to promote the deletion of p53-/- keratinocytes may be relevant to its inhibitory effect on UVB-induced skin cancer. Our studies indicate that administration of caffeine enhances the removal of DNA-damaged cells by inhibiting the ATR-mediated phosphorylation of Chk1 and prematurely increasing the number of cyclin B1-containing cells that undergo lethal mitosis.
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive skin cancer with a mortality of 33%. Advanced disease at diagnosis is a poor prognostic factor, suggesting that earlier detection may improve outcome. No systematic analysis has been published to define the clinical features that are characteristic of MCC.
To define the clinical characteristics present at diagnosis in order to identify features that may aid clinicians in recognizing MCC.
Cohort study of 195 patients diagnosed with MCC between 1980 and 2007. Data were collected prospectively in the majority of cases, and medical records were reviewed.
An important finding was that 88% of MCCs were asymptomatic (nontender) despite rapid growth in the prior 3 months (63% of lesions) and being red or pink (56%). A majority of MCC lesions (56%) were presumed to be benign, with a cyst/acneiform lesion being the single most common diagnosis (32%) given at biopsy. The median delay from lesion appearance to biopsy was 3 months (range 1–54 months), and median tumor diameter was 1.8 cm. Similar to prior studies, 81% of primary MCCs occurred on UV-exposed sites, and our cohort was elderly (90% over age 50), predominantly Caucasian (98%), and often profoundly immune suppressed (7.8%). An additional novel finding was that chronic lymphocytic leukemia was more than 30-fold over-represented among MCC patients.
The study was limited to patients seen at a tertiary care center. Complete clinical data could not be obtained on all patients. This study could not assess the specificity of the clinical characteristics of MCC.
This study is the first to define clinical features that may serve as clues in the diagnosis of MCC. The most significant features can be summarized in an acronym: AEIOU -Asymptomatic/lack of tenderness, Expanding rapidly, Immune suppression, Older than age 50, and UV-exposed site on a person with fair skin. In our series, 89% of primary MCCs had three or more of these findings. Although MCC is uncommon, when present in combination, these features may indicate a concerning process that would warrant biopsy. In particular, a lesion that is red and expanding rapidly yet asymptomatic should be of concern.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a skin cancer with 30% mortality and an incidence that has tripled in the past 15 years. There is agreement that surgical excision with negative margins is an appropriate therapeutic first step and that sentinel lymph node biopsy is a powerful prognostic indicator. Following excision of detectable cancer, optimal adjuvant therapy is not well established. A role for adjuvant radiotherapy is increasingly supported by retrospective data suggesting a nearly four-fold decrease in local recurrences if radiation is added to surgery. In contrast, a role for adjuvant chemotherapy is not well supported. The rationale for chemotherapy in this disease is based on small-cell lung cancer, a more common neuroendocrine tumor for which chemotherapy is the primary treatment modality. Several issues call into question the routine use of adjuvant chemotherapy in Merkel cell carcinoma: lack of evidence for improved survival; the associated morbidity and mortality; important differences between small-cell lung cancer and Merkel cell carcinoma; and rapid development of resistance to chemotherapy. Importantly, chemotherapy suppresses immune function that plays an unusually large role in defending the host from the development and progression of Merkel cell carcinoma. Taken together, these arguments suggest that adjuvant chemotherapy for Merkel cell carcinoma patients should largely be restricted to clinical trials.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a neuroendocrine cancer that typically presents as a rapidly growing non-specific nodule on sun exposed skin in people over 65 years of age. The recent increase in incidence to over 1000 cases a year in the United States has led Merkel cell carcinoma to become the second most common cause of non-melanoma skin cancer death.1,2 Optimal management for Merkel cell carcinoma beyond surgical excision is not agreed on, and no randomized trials have been carried out. Sentinel lymph node biopsy has been shown to be powerful in predicting subsequent recurrences as well as in determining if further nodal treatment is indicated.3,4
Eukaryotic cells have evolved a complex mechanism for sensing DNA damage during genome replication. Activation of this pathway prevents entry into mitosis to allow for either DNA repair or, in the event of irreparable damage, commitment to apoptosis. Under conditions of replication stress, the damage signal is initiated by the ataxia-telangiectasia-mutated and Rad3-related kinase ATR. We recently demonstrated that the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) gene product viral protein R (Vpr) arrests infected cells in the G2 phase via the activation of ATR. In the present study, we show that the activation of ATR by Vpr is analogous to activation by certain genotoxic agents, both mechanistically and in its downstream consequences. Specifically, we show a requirement for Rad17 and Hus1 to induce G2 arrest as well as Vpr-induced phosphorylation of histone 2A variant X (H2AX) and formation of nuclear foci containing H2AX and breast cancer susceptibility protein 1. These results demonstrate that G2 arrest mediated by the HIV-1 gene product Vpr utilizes the cellular signaling pathway whose physiological function is to recognize replication stress. These findings should contribute to a greater understanding of how HIV-1 manipulates the CD4+-lymphocyte cell cycle and apoptosis induction in the progressive CD4+-lymphocyte depletion characteristic of HIV-1 pathogenesis.