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Annu Rev Pathol. 2012;7:123-44. doi: 10.1146/annurev-pathol-011110-130227. Epub 2011 Sep 13.

Merkel cell carcinoma: a virus-induced human cancer.

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Department of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.


Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV) is the first polyomavirus directly linked to human cancer, and its recent discovery helps to explain many of the enigmatic features of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). MCV is clonally integrated into MCC tumor cells, which then require continued MCV oncoprotein expression to survive. The integrated viral genomes have a tumor-specific pattern of tumor antigen gene mutation that incapacitates viral DNA replication. This human cancer virus provides a new model in which a common, mostly harmless member of the human viral flora can initiate cancer if it acquires a precise set of mutations in a host with specific susceptibility factors, such as age and immune suppression. Identification of this tumor virus has led to new opportunities for early diagnosis and targeted treatment of MCC.

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