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Mod Pathol. 2008 Jul;21(7):876-84. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2008.63. Epub 2008 Apr 11.

Expression of VEGF-A/C, VEGF-R2, PDGF-alpha/beta, c-kit, EGFR, Her-2/Neu, Mcl-1 and Bmi-1 in Merkel cell carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare but very aggressive tumor of the skin. With current treatment options, Merkel cell carcinoma is associated with a high incidence of recurrence and metastasis. Targeted anticancer therapies such as receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors and antisense oligonucleotides have been found to be a promising new type of treatment for various types of cancer. To evaluate whether the use of targeted therapies is a possible treatment option in Merkel cell carcinoma, we determined the expression of the target molecules c-kit, Mcl-1, Bmi-1, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A, VEGF-C, VEGF-receptor 2 (VEGF-R2), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)-alpha, PDGF-beta, epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and Her-2/Neu in a tissue microarray of 32 samples of 29 patients with Merkel cell carcinoma. C-kit-positive samples were analyzed for mutations in exons 9 and 11. The tissue microarray was stained immunohistochemically with antibodies directed against the above-mentioned proteins, and an immunoreactivity score was calculated. DNA was extracted from c-kit-positive samples and was analyzed for exon 9 and 11 mutations using direct DNA sequencing. We found that c-kit (7%), Mcl-1 (88%), Bmi-1 (78%), VEGF-A (91%), VEGF-C (75%) VEGF-R2 (88%), PDGF-alpha (72%) and PDGF-beta (13%) were expressed in Merkel cell carcinomas. All samples showed a lack of EGFR and Her-2/Neu expression. Analysis of c-kit revealed no mutations. As VEGF-A, VEGF-C, VEGF-R2, PDGFs and c-kit are targets of new cytostatic agents used in the treatment of other cancers, inhibition by a multitargeted chemotherapy could be a very promising treatment option. High expression of Bmi-1 and Mcl-1 warrants further studies on the use of antisense oligonucleotides in Merkel cell carcinoma.

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