Merkel cell polyomavirus: A specific marker for merkel cell carcinoma in histologically similar tumors

Eric J. Duncavage, Binh Minh Le, David Wang, John D. Pfeifer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The recently described Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) is reportedly present in 50% to 80% of Merkel cell carcinomas (MCC). Although the virus has been shown to be absent from other cutaneous neoplasms, its association with malignancies that are histologically similar to MCC, specifically small cell carcinoma of the lung and other high-grade neuroendocrine tumors, has yet to be thoroughly investigated. To address this issue, we identified a set of 74 cases of visceral high-grade neuroendocrine tumors from a variety of anatomic sites, including 32 cases from the lung, 16 cases from the gastrointestinal tract, 20 cases from the female reproductive system, 3 cases from soft tissue, 2 cases from the head and neck region, and 1 case from the bladder. Using a set of primers optimized to detect MCPyV in formalin-fixed tissue, polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based testing showed evidence of MCPyV DNA in only 1 of the 74 tumors; however, clinicopathologic review of the positive case (a neuroendocrine tumor of the small intestine) disclosed that the patient had a history of primary MCC of the buttock. PCR-based testing also showed no evidence of the related WU and KI polyomaviruses in the set of 74 cases. We conclude that, when evaluated by PCR-based testing, MCPyV is a specific marker for MCC that can be helpful in distinguishing cases of metastatic MCC from other high-grade neuroendocrine tumors. Our results also suggest that MCPyV does not have a role in the oncogenesis of visceral high-grade neuroendocrine tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1771-1777
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgical Pathology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009


  • KI virus
  • Merkel cell carcinoma
  • Merkel cell polyomavirus
  • Neuroendocrine tumor
  • Small cell carcinoma
  • WU virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Surgery
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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