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J Cutan Pathol. 1997 Jan;24(1):14-24.

Merkel cells are absent in basal cell carcinomas but frequently found in trichoblastomas. An immunohistochemical study.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Heidelberg, Germany.


The possibility of a neuroendocrine differentiation in basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) has been a matter of debate for many years. In the present immunohistochemical study, applying the cytokeratins 8, 18 and 20 as the most established markers for Merkel cells (MCs), we did not find elevated numbers of MCs in any of 205 BCCs. This speaks against a neuroendocrine line of differentiation in BCCs. In contrast, we found various amounts of MCs in 15 of 36 trichoblastomas, which are the main benign differential diagnosis of BCC. In 4 trichoblastomas abundant MCs were spread over the whole epithelial tumor area. Additionally, the trichoblastomas' overlying epidermis exhibited significantly much higher numbers of MCs than the uninvolved adjacent skin or the epidermis overlying the BCCs. These findings might be an additional aid in the distinction between trichoblastomas and BCCs. Furthermore, concerning the recent discussion about the role of MC in growth and development of follicular germ, our observations are another sign of regulative influences of the MC, also in follicular germ under pathological conditions. Trichoblastomas with high numbers of MCs could be characterized as showing advanced differentiation toward the neuroendocrine component of the hair follicle, i.e., the MCs.

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