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Int J Cancer. 2010 Jun 15;126(12):2991-6. doi: 10.1002/ijc.24737.

Quantitative detection of Merkel cell virus in human tissues and possible mode of transmission.

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Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21231, USA.


Merkel Cell Virus (MCV) is a newly discovered polyomavirus, recently found in a rare skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). However, MCV has also been detected in some normal tissue samples. We tested and compared the relative quantity of the MCV in a set of diverse human tissue samples with the MCC samples. The levels of MCV in MCCs were over 60 times higher than the highest values in all other tissues. Low quantities of MCV were detected in diverse tissue samples independently of malignant or benign histologic status. Higher levels of the virus were found in the upper aerodigestive tract, digestive system, and saliva compared to the lung and genitourinary system samples. These results confirm that MCV is widespread in the human body and suggest a possible fecal-oral transmission route similar to the Hepatitis A virus. Despite widespread presence of the virus, it appears that only neuroendocrine skin cells are susceptible to transformation by MCV.

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