Creation of a Merkel cell polyomavirus small T antigen-expressing murine tumor model and a DNA vaccine targeting small T antigen

Cell Biosci. 2013 Jul 15;3(1):29. doi: 10.1186/2045-3701-3-29.


Background: Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) is a DNA virus expressing transcripts similar to the large T (LT) and small T (ST) transcripts of SV40, which has been implicated in the pathogenesis of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare and highly aggressive neuroendocrine skin cancer. MCPyV LT antigen expression was found to be a requirement for MCC tumor maintenance and ST protein also likely contributes to the carcinogenesis of MCC. Previously, we have identified the probable immunodominant epitope of MCPyV LT and developed a DNA vaccine encoding this epitope linked to calreticulin. The LT-targeting DNA vaccine generated prolonged survival, decreased tumor size and increased LT-specific CD8+ T cells in tumor-bearing mice.

Results: In this study, we developed a MCPyV ST-expressing tumor cell line from B16 mouse melanoma cells. We then utilized this ST-expressing tumor cell line to test the efficacy of a DNA vaccine encoding ST. In ST-expressing tumor-bearing mice, this vaccine, pcDNA3-MCC/ST, generated a significant number of ST antigenic peptide-specific CD8+ T cells and experienced markedly enhanced survival compared to mice vaccinated with empty vector.

Conclusions: The formation of an effective vaccine against MCPyV has the potential to advance the field of MCC therapy and may contribute to the control of this severe malignancy through immunotherapy. Both of the innovative technologies presented here provide opportunities to develop and test MCPyV-targeted therapies for the control of Merkel cell carcinoma.