Current Oncology Reports

, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 488–497

Immunobiology of Merkel Cell Carcinoma: Implications for Immunotherapy of a Polyomavirus-Associated Cancer


    • Departments of Medicine/Medical OncologyUniversity of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
  • Olga Afanasiev
    • Departments of Medicine/Dermatology, PathologyUniversity of Washington
  • Paul Nghiem
    • Departments of Medicine/Dermatology, PathologyUniversity of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Melanoma (Kim Margolin, Section Editor)

DOI: 10.1007/s11912-011-0197-5

Cite this article as:
Bhatia, S., Afanasiev, O. & Nghiem, P. Curr Oncol Rep (2011) 13: 488. doi:10.1007/s11912-011-0197-5


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive skin malignancy with a high mortality rate and an increasing incidence. The recent discovery of Merkel cell polyomavirus has revolutionized our understanding of MCC pathogenesis. Viral oncoproteins appear to play a critical role in tumor progression and are expressed in the majority of MCC tumors. Virus-specific humoral and cellular immune responses are detectable in MCC patients and are linked to the natural history of the disease. Despite persistent expression of immunogenic viral proteins, however, MCC tumors are able to evade the immune system. Understanding of the mechanisms of immune evasion employed by MCC tumors is rapidly increasing and offers opportunities for development of rational immune therapies to improve patient outcomes. Here we review recent discoveries in MCC with a special focus on the pathogenic role of Merkel cell polyomavirus and the immunobiology of this virus-associated disease.


Merkel cell carcinomaImmunotherapyMerkel cell polyomavirusMCVMCPyVCancer virusViral cancerImmune evasionImmune escapeMHCTumor immunologyTumor infiltrating lymphocytesTILsViral oncoproteinsT-antigenImmune suppression

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011