Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare but highly aggressive cutaneous neuroendocrine carcinoma. Cytokeratin 20 (CK20) is expressed in ∼95% of Merkel cell carcinomas and is useful for distinction from morphologically similar entities including metastatic small-cell lung carcinoma. Lack of CK20 expression may make diagnosis of Merkel cell carcinoma more challenging, and has unknown biological significance. Approximately 80% of CK20-positive Merkel cell carcinomas are associated with the oncogenic Merkel cell polyomavirus. Merkel cell carcinomas lacking Merkel cell polyomavirus display distinct genetic changes from Merkel cell polyomavirus-positive Merkel cell carcinoma, including RB1 inactivating mutations. Unlike CK20-positive Merkel cell carcinoma, the majority of CK20-negative Merkel cell carcinomas are Merkel cell polyomavirus-negative, suggesting CK20-negative Merkel cell carcinomas predominantly arise through virus-independent pathway(s) and may harbor additional genetic differences from conventional Merkel cell carcinoma. Hence, we analyzed 15 CK20-negative Merkel cell carcinoma tumors (10 Merkel cell polyomavirus-negative, four Merkel cell polyomavirus-positive, and one undetermined) using the Ion Ampliseq Comprehensive Cancer Panel, which assesses copy number alterations and mutations in 409 cancer-relevant genes. Twelve tumors displayed prioritized high-level chromosomal gains or losses (average 1.9 per tumor). Non-synonymous high-confidence somatic mutations were detected in 14 tumors (average 11.9 per tumor). Assessing all somatic coding mutations, an ultraviolet-signature mutational profile was present, and more prevalent in Merkel cell polyomavirus-negative tumors. Recurrent deleterious tumor suppressor mutations affected TP53 (9/15, 60%), RB1 (3/15, 20%), and BAP1 (2/15, 13%). Oncogenic activating mutations included PIK3CA (3/15, 20%), AKT1 (1/15, 7%) and EZH2 (1/15, 7%). In conclusion, CK20-negative Merkel cell carcinoma display overlapping genetic changes with CK20-positive Merkel cell carcinoma, including RB1 mutations restricted to Merkel cell polyomavirus-negative tumors. However, some CK20-negative Merkel cell carcinomas harbor mutations not previously described in Merkel cell carcinoma. Hence, CK20-negative Merkel cell carcinomas harbor diverse oncogenic drivers which may represent therapeutic targets in individual tumors.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine