Entry tropism of BK and Merkel cell polyomaviruses in cell culture

PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e42181. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042181. Epub 2012 Jul 31.


Merkel Cell Polyomavirus (MCV or MCPyV) was recently discovered in an aggressive form of skin cancer known as Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). Integration of MCV DNA into the host genome likely contributes to the development of MCC in humans. MCV infection is common and many healthy people shed MCV virions from the surface of their skin. MCV DNA has also been detected in samples from a variety of other tissues. Although MCC tumors serve as a record that MCV can infect the Merkel cell lineage, the true tissue tropism and natural reservoirs of MCV infection in the host are not known. In an effort to gain insight into the tissue tropism of MCV, and to possibly identify cellular factors responsible for mediating infectious entry of the virus, the infection potential of human cells derived from a variety of tissues was evaluated. MCV gene transfer vectors (pseudoviruses) carrying reporter plasmid DNA encoding GFP or luciferase genes were used to transduce keratinocytes and melanocytes, as well as lines derived from MCC tumors and the NCI-60 panel of human tumor cell lines. MCV transduction was compared to transduction with pseudoviruses based on the better-studied human BK polyomavirus (BKV). The efficiency of MCV and BKV transduction of various cell types occasionally overlapped, but often differed greatly, and no clear tissue type preference emerged. Application of native MCV virions to a subset of highly transducible cell types suggested that the lines do not support robust replication of MCV, consistent with recent proposals that the MCV late phase may be governed by cellular differentiation in vivo. The availability of carefully curated gene expression data for the NCI-60 panel should make the MCV and BKV transduction data for these lines a useful reference for future studies aimed at elucidation of the infectious entry pathways of these viruses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • BK Virus / physiology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Merkel cell polyomavirus / physiology*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Viral Tropism*
  • Virus Replication