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Hum Pathol. 2012 Jul;43(7):980-5. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2011.08.014. Epub 2011 Dec 26.

Extracutaneous Merkel cell carcinomas harbor polyomavirus DNA.

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Department of Hematology and Oncological Sciences "L. & A. Seragnoli," Section of Anatomic Pathology at Bellaria Hospital, University of Bologna, 40139 Bologna, Italy.


Merkel cell carcinoma is a neuroendocrine tumor, with characteristic morphological and immunohistochemical features. Originally reported as primary carcinoma of skin, it has been described in numerous other sites such as lymph nodes, oral cavity, breast, vaginal walls, and salivary glands. Recent studies have revealed in cutaneous Merkel cell carcinomas a clonally integrated polyomavirus, named Merkel cell polyomavirus. The aim of the present study was to verify the presence of Merkel cell polyomavirus in 5 cases of primary Merkel cell carcinomas of lymph nodes and 1 case of parotid gland to investigate similarities or differences among Merkel cell carcinomas from various sites. Cases studied were 5 primary Merkel cell carcinomas in lymph nodes, 1 in the parotid gland, and 12 in the skin. Twelve cases of primary and metastatic small cell carcinoma of the lung were also investigated. Immunohistochemistry for keratin 20, chromogranin, synaptophysin, and thyroid transcription factor 1 was performed in all cases. Viral DNA was studied using polymerase chain reaction assay and the products evaluated in agarose gel and sequenced. Cytokeratin 20 and Merkel cell polyomavirus were detected in all cases of primary Merkel cell carcinoma irrespective of their site of origin. On the contrary, all cases of pulmonary small cell carcinoma were negative for both Merkel cell polyomavirus and cytokeratin 20. It appears that cutaneous and extracutaneous Merkel cell carcinomas share similar histologic, immunohistochemical, and molecular features. This is further evidence that Merkel cell carcinomas are a multiorgan carcinoma and that Merkel cell polyomavirus might play a role in the pathogenesis of this neoplasm.

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