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 polyomavirus (MCPyV) is prevalent in the general population, integrates into most Merkel cell carcinomas (MCC), and encodes oncoproteins required for MCC tumor growth. We sought to characterize T-cell responses directed against viral proteins that drive this cancer as a step toward immunotherapy.
Intracellular cytokine cytometry, IFN-γ enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assay, and a novel HLA-A*2402-restricted MCPyV tetramer were used to identify and characterize T-cell responses against MCPyV oncoproteins in tumors and blood of MCC patients and control subjects.
We isolated virus-reactive CD8 or CD4 T cells from MCPyV-positive MCC tumors (2 of 6) but not from virus-negative tumors (0 of 4). MCPyV-specific T-cell responses were also detected in the blood of MCC patients (14 of 27) and control subjects (5 of 13). These T cells recognized a broad range of peptides derived from capsid proteins (2 epitopes) and oncoproteins (24 epitopes). HLA-A*2402-restricted MCPyV oncoprotein processing and presentation by mammalian cells led to CD8-mediated cytotoxicity. Virus-specific CD8 T cells were markedly enriched among tumor infiltrating lymphocytes as compared with blood, implying intact T-cell trafficking into the tumor. Although tetramer-positive CD8 T cells were detected in the blood of 2 of 5 HLA-matched MCC patients, these cells failed to produce IFN-γ when challenged ex vivo with peptide.
Our findings suggest that MCC tumors often develop despite the presence of T cells specific for MCPyV T-Ag oncoproteins. The identified epitopes may be candidates for peptide-specific vaccines and tumor- or virus-specific adoptive immunotherapies to overcome immune evasion mechanisms in MCC patients.