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  Section: Cell Biology Methods » Immunocytochemistry » Immunofluoresence
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Representative Cultured Cell Lines and Their Characteristics

Representative Cultured Cell Lines and Their Characteristics

Virtually thousands of different cell lines have been derived from human and other metazoan tissues. Many of these originate from normal tissues and exhibit a definable, limited doubling potential. Other cell lines may be propagated continuously, as they either have become immortalized from the normal by genetic changes or have been developed initially from tumor tissue. Finite lines of sufficient doubling potential and continuous lines can both be expanded to produce a large number of aliquots, frozen, and authenticated for widespread use in research.

Resources such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) have been established to acquire, preserve, authenticate, and distribute reference cell lines and microorganisms for use by the academic and industrial scientific community (Hay et al., 2000). The cell biology program at the ATCC performs these functions to include human and animal cell lines with over 4000 available in 2003.

The advantages of working with well-defined cell lines free from contaminating organisms may appear obvious. Unfortunately, however, the potential pitfalls associated with the use of cell lines casually obtained and processed still require emphasis (Stacey et al., 2000). Numerous occasions where lines exchanged among cooperating laboratories have been contaminated with cells of other species have been recognized since the late 1960s (Nelson-Rees et al., 1974, 1981; MacLeod et al., 1999). The loss of time and research funds as a result of these problems is very extensive.

Although bacterial and fungal contaminations represent an added concern, in most instances they are overt and easily detected, and therefore have less serious consequences than the more insidious contaminations by mycoplasma. That the presence of these latter microorganisms in cultured cell lines often negates research findings entirely has been stated repeatedly over the years (Barile et al., 1973; Hay et al., 1989). However, the difficulties of detection and the prevalence of contaminated cultures in the research community suggest that the problem cannot be overemphasized. These and related difficulties associated with the use of cell lines obtained from different sources can be avoided if one acquires stocks from a centralized cell resource that applies appropriate quality control (Hay et al., 2000).

Representative human cell lines from normal and tumor tissues available from the ATCC are listed in Table I with a selection of a few of the more important characteristics. Similar data on a variety of cell lines from other animals are included in Table II. More current information on these and other cell lines, their availability, and characteristics is available online via the ATCC website at


Barile, M. E, Hopps, H. E., Grabowski, M. W., Riggs, D. B., and Del Giudice, R. A. (1973). The identification and sources of mycoplasmas isolated from contaminated cultures. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 225, 252-264.

Hay, R. J., Cleland, M. M., Durkin, S., and Reid, Y. A. (2000). Cell line preservation and authentication. In "Animal Cell Culture: A Practical Approach" (J. R. W. Masters, ed.), 3rd Ed., pp. 69-103. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.

Hay, R. J., Caputo, J., Chen, T. R., Macy, M. L., McClintock, R, and Reid, Y. A. (1992). "Catalogue of Cell Lines and Hybridomas," 7th Ed. American Type Culture Collection, Rockville, MD.

Hay, R. J., Macy, M. L., and Chen, T. R. (1989). Mycoplasma infection of cultured cells. Nature (London) 339, 487-488.

MacLeod, R. A. E, Dirks, W. G., Kaufmann M., Matsuo Y., Milch H., and Drexler H. G. (1999). Widespread intraspecies crosscontamination of human tumor cell line arising at source. Int. J. Cancer 83, 555-563.

Nelson-Rees, W., Daniels, W. W., and Flandermeyer, R. R. (1981). Cross-contamination of cells in culture. Science 212, 446-452.

Nelson-Rees, W. A., and Flandemeyer, R. R. (1977). Inter- and intraspecies contamination of human breast tumor cell lines HBC and BrCa5 and other cell cultures. Science 195, 1343-1344.

Nelson-Rees, W. A., Flandermeyer, R. R., and Hawthorne, P. K. (1974) Banded marker chromosomes as indicators of intraspecies cellular contamination. Science 184, 1093-1096.

Stacey, G. N., Masters, J. R. W., Hay, R. J., Drexler, H. G., MacLeod, R. A. E, and Freshney, R. I. (2000). Cell contamination leads to inaccurate data: We must take action now. Nature 403, 356.
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