Research Papers:

Evaluating blood levels of neuron specific enolase, chromogranin A, and circulating tumor cells as Merkel cell carcinoma biomarkers

Maria Rita Gaiser _, Kenneth Daily, Jochen Hoffmann, Maik Brune, Alexander Enk and Isaac Brownell

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Oncotarget. 2015; 6:26472-26482. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.4500

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Maria Rita Gaiser1, Kenneth Daily2, Jochen Hoffmann1, Maik Brune3, Alexander Enk1, Isaac Brownell2

1Department of Dermatology, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany

2Dermatology Branch, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA

3Department of Internal Medicine I and Clinical Chemistry, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany

Correspondence to:

Maria Rita Gaiser, e-mail: [email protected]

Keywords: Merkel cell carcinoma, neuron specific enolase, chromogranin A, circulating tumor cells, EpCAM

Received: May 13, 2015     Accepted: June 18, 2015     Published: July 02, 2015


Background: Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, aggressive neuroendocrine skin cancer. Although used to monitor MCC patients, the clinical utility of neuron-specific enolase (NSE) and chromogranin A (ChrA) blood levels is untested. EpCAM-positive circulating tumor cells (CTC) reflect disease status in several epithelial tumors. Here we investigate the use of NSE and ChrA blood levels and CTC counts as biomarkers for MCC disease behavior.

Methods: NSE and ChrA blood levels from 60 patients with MCC were retrospectively analyzed; 30 patients were additionally screened for CTC. Biomarker values were correlated to clinical parameters.

Results: Despite routine use by some physicians, NSE and ChrA blood levels did not correlate with progression free survival, disease specific survival, or MCC recurrence. We found CTC in 97% of tested MCC patients. CTC counts were elevated in patients with active disease, suggesting their potential use in monitoring MCC.

Conclusion: NSE and ChrA levels were not effective in predicting outcomes or detecting recurrences of MCC. In contrast, CTC counts have potential utility as a biomarker for MCC disease behavior.

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