Merkel cell polyomavirus sequences are frequently detected in nonmelanoma skin cancer of immunosuppressed patients

Int J Cancer. 2009 Jul 15;125(2):356-61. doi: 10.1002/ijc.24323.


Recently, a new human polyoma virus has been identified in Merkel cell carcinomas (MCC). MCC is a highly aggressive neuroendocrine nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC) associated with immunosuppression. Clonal integration of this virus which was termed Merkel cell polyoma virus (MCPyV) was reported in a number of MCC. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC) are also NMSC and are the most frequent cancers in the setting of immunosuppression. A unique group of 56 NMSC from 11 immunosuppressed patients and 147 NMSC of 125 immunocompetent patients was tested for MCPyV by DNA PCR, targeting the Large T Antigen and the structural Viral Protein 1. NMSC included SCC, BCC and Bowen's disease (BD). In addition, normal skin and 89 colorectal cancers were tested. MCPyV specific sequences were significantly more frequently found in NMSC of immunosuppressed patients compared to immunocompetent patients (p < 0.001). In particular BD and BCC revealed a significant increased association of MCPyV of immunosuppressed patients (p = 0.002 and p = 0.006). Forty-seven of 147 (32%) sporadic NMSC were MCPyV positive. Interestingly, 37.5% (36/96) of sporadic BCC of immunocompetent patients were MCPyV positive. No MCPyV was detected within normal skin and only 3 out of 89 of additionally tested colorectal cancers were MCPyV positive. Our data show that MCPyV is a frequently reactivated virus in immunocompromized patients. How MCPyV contributes to the pathogenesis of NMSC, i.e., BD, SCC and BCC, in immunosuppressed patients and in addition, potentially to the pathogenesis of a subset of sporadic BCC needs further investigations.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Base Sequence
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell / virology*
  • DNA Primers
  • Female
  • Genes, Viral*
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polyomavirus / genetics*
  • Polyomavirus / isolation & purification
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Skin Neoplasms / virology*
  • Viral Load


  • DNA Primers