Merkel cell polyomavirus exhibits dominant control of the tumor genome and transcriptome in virus-associated merkel cell carcinoma

Gabriel J. Starrett, Christina Marcelus, Paul G. Cantalupo, Joshua P. Katz, Jingwei Cheng, Keiko Akagi, Manisha Thakuria, Guilherme Rabinowits, Linda C. Wang, David E. Symer, James M. Pipas, Reuben S. Harris, James A. Decaprio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Merkel cell polyomavirus is the primary etiological agent of the aggressive skin cancer Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). Recent studies have revealed that UV radiation is the primary mechanism for somatic mutagenesis in nonviral forms of MCC. Here, we analyze the whole transcriptomes and genomes of primary MCC tumors. Our study reveals that virus-associated tumors have minimally altered genomes compared to non-virus-associated tumors, which are dominated by UV-mediated mutations. Although virus-associated tumors contain relatively small mutation burdens, they exhibit a distinct mutation signature with observable transcriptionally biased kataegic events. In addition, viral integration sites overlap focal genome amplifications in virus-associated tumors, suggesting a potential mechanism for these events. Collectively, our studies indicate that Merkel cell polyomavirus is capable of hijacking cellular processes and driving tumorigenesis to the same severity as tens of thousands of somatic genome alterations. IMPORTANCE A variety of mutagenic processes that shape the evolution of tumors are critical determinants of disease outcome. Here, we sequenced the entire genome of virus-positive and virus-negative primary Merkel cell carcinomas (MCCs), revealing distinct mutation spectra and corresponding expression profiles. Our studies highlight the strong effect that Merkel cell polyomavirus has on the divergent development of viral MCC compared to the somatic alterations that typically drive nonviral tumorigenesis. A more comprehensive understanding of the distinct mutagenic processes operative in viral and nonviral MCCs has implications for the effective treatment of these tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02079-16
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

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© 2017 Starrett et al.


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