Expression of Adhesion Molecules and Cytokeratin 20 in Merkel Cell Carcinomas

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Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin. MCCs often show characteristic paranuclear dot-like immunopositivity for cytokeratin 20 (CK20), a globular aggregation of CK20 intermediate filaments. These aggregates typically form rhabdoid features and fibrous bodies and may be associated with a down-regulation in adhesion molecules (AMs). To date, the relationship between the expression of AMs and CK20 and clinicopathological findings in MCC has not been well examined. In this immunohistochemical study, we assessed the expression of AMs, CK20, and chromogranin A (CgA) on MCCs in 8 men and 23 women with this disease, and also characterized their clinico-pathological features. This study is the largest of its kind that has been undertaken to date in Japanese patients.

Compared to normal tissue, E-cadherin and α-and β-catenins showed reduced membranous expression in 95.7%, 46.7%, and 45.2% of MCCs, respectively. Nuclear E-cadherin localization was seen in four tumors, all of which predominantly showed a CK20 dot pattern. However, there was no significant relationship between the membranous expression of AMs and a CK20 dot pattern. E-cadherin expression was significantly lower in tumors of ≥2 cm, and tumors negative for E-cadherin more frequently developed outside of the head and neck than within those regions. CgA was more intensely expressed in tumors with uniform nuclei and a dense lymphocytic infiltrate than in those that showed pleomorphisms and that had few, if any, infiltrating lymphocytes.

These findings suggest that MCCs have a reduced expression of AMs and that down-regulation of E-cadherin expression may correlate with increased tumor aggressiveness. The fact that no significant relationship was demonstrable between the membranous expression of AMs and the CK20 expression pattern suggests that the mechanism of aggregation of intermediate filaments may be different in different types of tumors.

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