Purpose: Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive cancer with frequent metastasis and death with few effective therapies. Because programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) is frequently expressed in MCC, immune checkpoint blockade has been leveraged as treatment for metastatic disease. There is therefore a critical need to understand the relationships between MCPyV status, immune profiles and patient outcomes. Experimental Design: Immunohistochemistry for CD3, CD8, PD-1, PD-L1 and MCPyV T-antigen (to determine MCPyV status) was performed on 62 primary MCCs with annotated clinical outcomes. Automated image analysis quantified immune cell density (positive cells/mm2) at discrete geographic locations (tumor periphery, center, and hotspot). T-cell receptor sequencing (TCRseq) was performed in a subset of MCCs. Results: No histopathologic variable associated with overall survival (OS) or disease-specific survival (DSS), whereas higher CD3+ (p=0.004) and CD8+ (p=0.037) T-cell density at the tumor periphery associated with improved OS. Higher CD8+ T-cell density at the tumor periphery associated with improved DSS (p=0.049). Stratifying MCCs according to MCPyV status, higher CD3+ (p=0.026) and CD8+ (p=0.015) T-cell density at the tumor periphery associated with improved OS for MCPyV+ but not MCPyV- MCC. TCRseq revealed clonal overlap among MCPyV+ samples, suggesting an antigen-specific response against a unifying antigen. Conclusions: These findings establish the tumor associated immune infiltrate at the tumor periphery as a robust prognostic indicator in MCC and provide a mechanistic rationale to further examine whether the immune infiltrate at the tumor periphery is relevant as a biomarker for response in ongoing and future checkpoint inhibitor trials in MCC.
- Received February 12, 2016.
- Revision received May 4, 2016.
- Accepted May 5, 2016.
- Copyright ©2016, American Association for Cancer Research.