Low prevalence of Merkel cell polyomavirus in human epithelial thymic tumors

Emil Chteinberg, Faisal Klufah, Dorit Rennspiess, Mick F. Mannheims, Myrurgia A. Abdul-Hamid, Mario Losen, Marlies Keijzers, Marc H. De Baets, Anna Kordelia Kurz, Axel zur Hausen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background The etiology of thymic epithelial tumors is unknown. Murine polyomavirus strain PTA has been shown to induce thymomas in mice. Recently, using diverse molecular techniques, we reported the presence of human polyomavirus 7 (HPyV7) in thymic epithelial tumors. In the present study, we investigated the prevalence of Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) in thymic epithelial tumors. Methods Thirty-six thymomas were screened for MCPyV by PCR and subsequently tested by DNA and RNA in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. Twenty-six thymomas were diagnosed with myasthenia gravis (MG). Results MCPyV DNA was detected by PCR in 7 (19.4%) of the 36 thymic epithelial tumors and in six of these, the presence of MCPyV was confirmed by fluorescence situ hybridization. Of these, 3 (28.6%) revealed weak MCPyV LT-antigen protein expression. In addition, one of the MCPyV positive thymomas tested positive for MCPyV LT RNA with RNAscope. Of interest, two out of the three thymomas that previously tested positive for MCPyV by immunohistochemistry also tested positive for HPyV7. One of the 11 MG-negative and 2 of the 25 MG-positive were positive for MCPyV. Conclusions MCPyV DNA and MCPyV protein expression can be detected in human epithelial thymoma; however, to a far lesser extent than HPyV7. Our data strongly indicate that because of its infrequent detection and weak expression, MCPyV is unlikely to play an important role in the etiopathogenesis of human thymomas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-451
Number of pages7
JournalThoracic Cancer
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Fluorescence in situ hybridization
  • immunohistochemistry
  • Merkel cell polyomavirus
  • thymoma
  • tumorigenesis


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