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J Invest Dermatol. 2010 Apr;130(4):1146-51. doi: 10.1038/jid.2009.392. Epub 2009 Dec 17.

Inflammatory monocytes are a reservoir for Merkel cell polyomavirus.

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Kempf and Pfaltz Histological Diagnostics, Research Unit, Zurich, Switzerland.


Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) is a recently discovered virus that is implicated in the oncogenesis of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). The route of dissemination and the reservoir(s) of MCPyV within the human body have not yet been identified. In this study we describe two patients with multiple MCPyV-positive inflammatory and neoplastic skin lesions at different anatomic sites. Patient 1 was suffering from psoriasis for many years and was diagnosed with MCC 7 years before this study. Patient 2 had developed numerous non-melanoma skin cancer lesions under post-transplant immunosuppression. In both patients, MCPyV DNA was detected in whole blood and in urine using PCR and direct sequencing of PCR products. When we analyzed different blood compartments, we found MCPyV exclusively in cell-free serum and in blood monocytes, but not in lymphocytes or granulocytes. Upon separate analysis of resident (CD14(lo)CD16(+)) and inflammatory (CD14(+)CD16(-)) monocytes, we detected MCPyV exclusively in inflammatory, but not in resident monocytes. Our findings raise the possibility that MCPyV persists in inflammatory monocytes and spreads along the migration routes of inflammatory monocytes. This points to intervention strategies to contain MCPyV. Moreover, blood or urine tests may serve as ancillary tests to confirm MCPyV infection in a clinical setting.

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