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APMIS. 2014 Dec;122(12):1157-66. doi: 10.1111/apm.12274. Epub 2014 Apr 16.

RB1 gene in Merkel cell carcinoma: hypermethylation in all tumors and concurrent heterozygous deletions in the polyomavirus-negative subgroup.

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Department of Pathology, Helsinki University and HUSLAB, Helsinki, Finland; Department of Plastic Surgery, Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.


Sequestration of the tumor suppressor retinoblastoma protein (RB) by the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV) is a crucial step in the pathogenesis of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). RB expression is frequently lost, particularly in MCV-negative MCC tumors, through yet unknown mechanisms. We compared the genomic copy number changes of 13 MCV-positive and 13 -negative MCC tumors by array comparative genomic hybridization. The analysis revealed increased genomic instability, amplification of 1p34.3-1p34.2, and losses of 11p in the absence of MCV infection. Deletions of the RB1 locus were also detected at high rates in MCV-negative tumors. None of the tumors with heterozygous RB1 losses expressed RB in immunohistochemistry. RB1 promoter hypermethylation was studied with a methylation-specific multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification technique. The RB1 promoter was methylated in all tumor specimens at CpG islands located close to the ATG start codon, albeit at low levels. The pattern of hypermethylation was similar in all MCC samples, despite RB expression, survival or MCV status. In conclusion, the frequent heterozygous losses of the RB1 locus could partly explain the decreased RB expression in MCV-negative MCC tumors, although the effects of RB1 mutations, coinciding promoter hypermethylation and, for example, miRNA regulation, cannot be excluded.


Merkel cell carcinoma; Merkel cell polyomavirus; array comparative genomic hybridization; hypermethylation; retinoblastoma gene; retinoblastoma protein

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