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 carcinomas (MCCs) are rare but highly malignant skin cancers associated with a recently described polyomavirus. MCC tumors were infiltrated by T cells, including effector, central memory, and regulatory T cells. Infiltrating T cells showed markedly reduced activation as evidenced by reduced expression of CD69 and CD25. Treatment of MCC tumors in vitro with IL-2 and IL-15 led to T-cell activation, proliferation, enhanced cytokine production, and loss of viable tumor cells from cultures. Expanded tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes showed TCR repertoire skewing and upregulation of CD137. MCC tumors implanted into immunodeficient mice failed to grow unless human T cells in the tumor grafts were depleted with denileukin diftitox, suggesting that tumor-specific T cells capable of controlling tumor growth were present in MCC. Both CD4(+) and CD8(+) FOXP3(+) regulatory T cells were frequent in MCC. Fifty percent of nonactivated T cells in MCC-expressed PD-1, a marker of T-cell exhaustion, and PD-L1 and PD-L2 were expressed by a subset of tumor dendritic cells and macrophages. In summary, we observed tumor-specific T cells with suppressed activity in MCC tumors. Agents that stimulate T-cell activity, block regulatory T cell function, or inhibit PD-1 signaling may be effective in the treatment of this highly malignant skin cancer.