Merkel cell polyomavirus large T antigen is detected in rare cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer


Gieri Cathomas, MD,

Kantonales Institut für Pathologie, Mühlemattstrasse 11, CH-4410 Liestal, Switzerland

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Studies of Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) in nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSC) other than Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) produced controversial results. Therefore, we studied the prevalence of MCPyV in basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and in squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).


Tissue specimens were analyzed for the presence of MCPyV DNA by conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Expression of MCPyV large T protein was determined by immunohistochemistry.


MCPyV DNA was frequently detected in skin cancers by PCR, in 36 of 88 BCCs, in 21 of 75 SCCs and in 10 of 47 normal skin samples. In BCC, a significant difference in the detection rate compared to normal skin was observed. In contrast, weak reactivity for MCPyV large T antigen was detected only sporadically in immunosuppressed patients (2 of 88 BCCs, 1 of 75 SCCs). Mutations of the large T antigen of MCPyV were more frequently observed in MCC than in BCC/SCC.


Our results suggest that the frequent detection of the MCPyV genome in NMSC by PCR reflects ubiquitous spread of the virus. However, the low immunohistochemical detection rate of MCPyV and the lack of MCC-specific MCPyV mutations argue against an essential role of MCPyV in the development of skin cancers other than MCC.