Identification of natural product modulators of Merkel cell carcinoma cell growth and survival

Sci Rep. 2021 Jun 30;11(1):13597. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-93097-9.


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, but aggressive skin cancer the incidence of which has increased significantly in recent years. The majority of MCCs have incorporated Merkel cell polyomavirus (VP-MCC) while the remainder are virus-negative (VN-MCC). Although a variety of therapeutic options have shown promise in treating MCC, there remains a need for additional therapeutics as well as probes for better understanding MCC. A high-throughput screening campaign was used to assess the ability of > 25,000 synthetic and natural product compounds as well as > 20,000 natural product extracts to affect growth and survival of VN-MCC and VP-MCC cell lines. Sixteen active compounds were identified that have mechanisms of action reported in the literature along with a number of compounds with unknown mechanisms. Screening results with pure compounds suggest a range of potential targets for MCC including DNA damage, inhibition of DNA or protein synthesis, reactive oxygen species, and proteasome inhibition as well as NFκB inhibition while also suggesting the importance of zinc and/or copper binding. Many of the active compounds, particularly some of the natural products, have multiple reported targets suggesting that this strategy might be a particularly fruitful approach. Processing of several active natural product extracts resulted in the identification of additional MCC-active compounds. Based on these results, further investigations focused on natural products sources, particularly of fungal origin, are expected to yield further potentially useful modulators of MCC.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents* / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents* / pharmacology
  • Biological Products* / chemistry
  • Biological Products* / pharmacology
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell* / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell* / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell* / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Humans
  • Skin Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Skin Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Skin Neoplasms* / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biological Products