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Clonal Integration of a Polyomavirus in Human Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Science  22 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5866, pp. 1096-1100
DOI: 10.1126/science.1152586

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Abstract

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare but aggressive human skin cancer that typically affects elderly and immunosuppressed individuals, a feature suggestive of an infectious origin. We studied MCC samples by digital transcriptome subtraction and detected a fusion transcript between a previously undescribed virus T antigen and a human receptor tyrosine phosphatase. Further investigation led to identification and sequence analysis of the 5387–base-pair genome of a previously unknown polyomavirus that we call Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV or MCPyV). MCV sequences were detected in 8 of 10 (80%) MCC tumors but only 5 of 59 (8%) control tissues from various body sites and 4 of 25 (16%) control skin tissues. In six of eight MCV-positive MCCs, viral DNA was integrated within the tumor genome in a clonal pattern, suggesting that MCV infection and integration preceded clonal expansion of the tumor cells. Thus, MCV may be a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of MCC.

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