Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive skin cancer of neuroendocrine origin with a high propensity for recurrence and metastasis. Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) causes the majority of MCC cases due to the expression of the MCPyV small and large tumor antigens (ST and LT, respectively). Although a number of molecular mechanisms have been attributed to MCPyV tumor antigen-mediated cellular transformation or replication, to date, no studies have investigated any potential link between MCPyV T antigen expression and the highly metastatic nature of MCC. Here we use a quantitative protesomic approach to show that MCPyV ST promotes differential expression of cellular proteins implicated in microtubule-associated cytoskeletal organization and dynamics. Intriguingly, we demonstrate that MCPyV ST expression promotes microtubule destabilization, leading to a motile and migratory phenotype. We further highlight the essential role of the microtubule-associated protein stathmin in MCPyV ST-mediated microtubule destabilization and cell motility and implicate the cellular phosphatase catalytic subunit protein phosphatase 4C (PP4C) in the regulation of this process. These findings suggest a possible molecular mechanism for the highly metastatic phenotype associated with MCC.
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© 2015, American Society for Microbiology.