Our team based in Seattle conducted a comprehensive review including evolving trends in the management of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). This summary covers key decision points, including recommended work-up during initial diagnosis, treatment options for MCC when it’s in one place or has spread, management of recurrent MCC, and new treatments that are showing promise with fewer side effects and good results. This review gives valuable information on how to handle MCC overall and emphasizes new methods that are effective and less toxic on patients.
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and aggressive, yet highly immunogenic skin cancer. The latter is due to its viral or UV-associated carcinogenesis. For tumor progression MCC has to escape the host’s immuno-surveillance, e.g. by loss of HLA class-I expression. Indeed, a reduced HLA class-I expression was observed in MCC tumor tissues and MCC cell lines. This reduced HLA class-I surface expression is caused by an impaired expression of key components of the antigen processing machinery (APM), including LMP2 and LMP7 as well as TAP1 and TAP2. Notably, experimental provisions of HLA class-I binding peptides restored HLA class-I surface expression on MCC cells. Silencing of the HLA class-I APM is due to histone deacetylation as inhibition of histone deacetylases (HDACs) not only induced acetylation of histones in the respective promoter regions but also re-expression of APM components. Thus, HDAC inhibition restored HLA class-I surface expression in vitro and in a mouse xenotransplantation model. In contrast to re-induction of HLA class-I by interferons, HDAC inhibitors did not interfere with the expression of immuno-dominant viral proteins. In summary, restoration of HLA class-I expression on MCC cells by epigenetic priming is an attractive approach to enhance therapies boosting adaptive immune responses.