Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer of neuroendocrine origin. Its treatment involves wide excision and radiotherapy but no effective therapy exists for advanced disease. Upregulation of the platelet-derived growth factor receptor family of tyrosine kinases, PDGFRA and KIT, has a crucial role in cancer development. Several studies have shown expression of the tyrosine kinase receptor KIT (CD117) in Merkel cell carcinoma. In this study, we examined the expression and mutational status of KIT and PDGFRA in 14 primary and 18 metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. The expression of KIT and PDGFRA and their respective ligands, stem cell factor (SCF) and PDGFA, was assessed by immunohistochemistry. In addition, we analyzed KIT exons 9, 11, 13 and 17, and PDGFRA exons 10, 12 and 18 for the presence of activating mutations. We found that only 53% of cases of Merkel cell carcinoma expressed KIT, which was mostly seen as diffuse weak staining, and SCF expression was observed only in 31% of cases. In contrast, 87 and 81% of cases expressed PDGFRA and PDGFA, respectively. We observed coexpression of SCF and KIT in only 5 of 32 cases (16%) whereas 25 of 31 cases (81%) showed coexpression of PDGFRA and its ligand PDGFA. While we documented silent mutations in exon 17 of KIT and exons 10, 12 and 18 of PDGFRA, we were not able to identify any known activating mutations. Our results indicate that there is no correlation between positive immunostaining and occurrence of activating mutations in KIT and PDGFRA. Moreover, the presence of KIT/SCF and PDGFRA/PDGFA coexpression in a proportion of cases may indicate an autocrine/paracrine stimulation loop. We think therefore that imatinib mesylate is less likely to be an effective therapy for Merkel cell carcinoma, unless activating mutations exist in other exons of these receptor kinases.
- Merkel cell carcinoma
- Molecular analysis