Prognostic relevance of high atonal homolog-1 expression in Merkel cell carcinoma

J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 2017 Jan;143(1):43-49. doi: 10.1007/s00432-016-2257-6. Epub 2016 Sep 13.


Background: It has recently been reported that atonal homolog 1 (ATOH1) gene is down-regulated in Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) and thus may represent a tumor suppressor gene.

Objectives: We aimed to test for ATOH1 gene mutations and expression levels in MCC tissues and cell lines.

Methods: Genomic DNA isolation and amplification via PCR was successfully performed in 33 MCCs on formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue and three MCC cell lines, followed by Sanger sequencing of the whole ATOH1 gene to detect genomic aberrations. ATOH1 mRNA levels were determined by RT-PCR. Immunohistochemistry of ATOH1 was performed to quantify protein expression in tumor samples and cell lines.

Results: Neither in any of the 33 MCC tissue samples nor in the three cell lines ATOH1 mutations were present. ATOH1 was expressed in all lesions, albeit at different expression levels. Univariate analysis revealed that the total immunohistology score significantly correlated with the occurrence of tumor relapse (r = 0.57; P = 0.0008). This notion was confirmed in multivariate analysis suggesting that ATOH1 expression is a potential independent predictor for tumor relapse in MCC patients (P = 0.028). MCC-related death also correlated with ATOH1 expression (r = 0.4; P = 0.025); however, ATOH1 expression did not retain its predictive value in the regression model.

Conclusions: In contrast to anecdotal reports ATOH1 expression is not lost by genetic alterations in MCC. However, protein expression of ATOH1 is increased in advanced MCC indicating that ATOH1 is involved in MCC progression.

Keywords: ATOH1; Atonal homolog-1; Merkel cell carcinoma.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Base Sequence
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell / virology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Merkel cell polyomavirus / genetics
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / metabolism*
  • Prognosis
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Skin Neoplasms / virology


  • ATOH1 protein, human
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Biomarkers, Tumor