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Hum Pathol. 2011 Oct;42(10):1385-90. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2010.12.013. Epub 2011 Mar 30.

Immunohistochemistry for Merkel cell polyomavirus is highly specific but not sensitive for the diagnosis of Merkel cell carcinoma in the Australian population.

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The Department of Anatomical Pathology, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, 2065 Australia.


Recent studies have demonstrated a high frequency of detection of Merkel cell polyomavirus in Merkel cell carcinoma. However, most of these studies are from European or North American centers that have relatively low sun exposure and may have a higher incidence of virus-driven oncogenesis compared with the highly sun-exposed but predominantly fair-skinned Australian population. We performed immunohistochemistry for Merkel cell polyomavirus on 104 cases of Merkel cell carcinoma and 74 cases of noncutaneous small cell-undifferentiated carcinoma from 3 major Australian centers. Nineteen (18.3%) cases of Merkel cell carcinoma showed positive staining for Merkel cell polyomavirus versus 1 (1.3%) of small cell-undifferentiated carcinoma. All 15 cases (14.3%) of Merkel cell carcinoma with areas of mixed squamous differentiation showed negative staining. We found positive staining in only 3 (7.7%) of 39 Merkel cell carcinoma from the head and neck (the most sun-exposed area) versus 16 (24.6%) of 65 of tumors from other sites (P < .05). Our findings support the concept of a Merkel cell polyomavirus-driven and a non-Merkel cell polyomavirus-driven (primarily sun-dependent) pathway in Merkel cell carcinoma carcinogenesis, with the latter being significantly more frequent in Australia and in mixed squamous-Merkel cell carcinoma (which is also more frequent in Australia). Although immunohistochemistry for Merkel cell polyomavirus seems to be highly specific in all populations, the low incidence of Merkel cell polyomavirus-positive Merkel cell carcinoma in a highly sun-exposed population limits its diagnostic utility in this setting.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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