Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare (∼ 2000 cases/year in the USA) but aggressive neuroendocrine neoplasm of the skin. In 2008, the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) was found to be clonally integrated in approximately 80% of Merkel cell carcinomas. The remaining 20% have large numbers of UV-associated mutations. Importantly, both the UV-induced neoantigens in virus-negative Merkel cell carcinoma and the Merkel cell polyomavirus oncogenes that are required for virus-positive tumor growth are highly immunogenic. Indeed, antigen-specific T cells detected in patients are frequently “dysfunctional/exhausted,” and the inhibitory ligand PD-L1 is often expressed by Merkel cell carcinoma cells. These data led to point our attention on the quantity and the quality of the immune response in Merkel cell carcinoma. Here, we found CD8+ lymphocytes are the only singly evaluated lymphocyte subclass that strongly influenced overall survival and disease-specific survival in Merkel cell carcinoma. In addition, we highlighted as Merkel cell polyomavirus is a strong prognostic factor and as it prompts a host immune response involving various lymphocyte subclasses (CD3, CD8, FoxP3, and PD-L1 positive) in MCC. For this reason, we proposed a novel eye-based “immunoscore” model, obtained by tumor infiltrating lymphocytes subtyping (CD3, CD8, FoxP3, and PD-L1) that could provide additional prognostic information in Merkel cell carcinoma.
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