Merkel cell carcinoma is an aggressive neuroendocrine skin tumor, for which several non-conclusive prognostic factors of adverse clinical behavior have been reported. As promoter methylation of the immune checkpoint receptor CD279/PD-1/PDCD1(mPDCD1) has been shown to be a prognostic factor in different cancers, we investigated its role in Merkel cell carcinoma. mPDCD1was assessed retrospectively in a cohort of 69 Merkel cell carcinoma patients from the University of Bologna, University of Turin and University of Insubria. Kaplan-Meier curves and log-rank tests were calculated for all variables. To assess the influence of mPDCD1, the Cox proportional hazards model and different Royston-Parmar models were evaluated. High PDCD1 methylation (mPDCD1high) was associated with a higher overall mortality at both the univariate analysis (log rank test: χ2 = 5.17, p = 0.023; permutation test: p = 0.023) and the multivariate analysis (HR = 2.111, p = 0.042). The other variables associated with a higher overall mortality at the multivariate analysis were clinical stage III-IV (HR = 2.357, p = 0.008), size > 2 cm (HR = 2.248, p = 0.031) and Merkel cell polyomavirus (HR = 0.397, p = 0.015). Further, mPDCD1high was strongly associated with older age (81 vs 76 years, p = 0.042), absence of immune cells (92.6%, p < 0.001), no expression of PD-L1 by immune cells (70.4%, p = 0.041) and by both immune and tumor cells (70.4%, p = 0.001). mPDCD1 is a valid prognostic parameter in patients affected by Merkel cell carcinoma. In addition, it could provide an estimate of the global PD-1/PD-L1 expression with potentially relevant implications from a therapeutic point of view.
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This work will be partially presented as a Poster Session at the 108th Meeting of the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology in National Harbor, Maryland, 16-21 March 2019
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This work was supported by Ricerca Fondamentale Orientata (RFO) to Dr. Sofia Asioli, University of Bologna, Italy.