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Cell Line Misidentification

“Evidence suggests that up to one-third of tumor cell lines being used in scientific research are affected by inter- or intraspecies cross-contamination or have been wrongly identified, thereby rendering many of the conclusions doubtful if not completely invalid.” —  Lancet Oncology, vol. 2, July 2001, p. 393

Combating Cell Misidentification

Simple pipetting and labeling errors can happen to the most conscientious cell culturist and lead to the propagation of a misidentified cell line. Additionally, both intra- and interspecies cell line cross-contamination can lead to misidentification if the contaminating cell line is heartier than the cell line it has corrupted. Proper aseptic technique can reduce the risk of contamination and misidentification, but nobody is perfect - and the potential cost of using contaminated or misidentified lines, in time, resources, and reputation, is very high. Thus, periodic authentication of your cell lines is well-worth the effort.

Cell lines from ATCC have been thoroughly tested and authenticated, so you can be certain the label on the vial represents the cells stored within. If, however, your cells come from a less than reliable source or if they’ve been sharing an incubator with other cell lines for a while, it may be time to perform an identity check.

Check our the additional resources listed below for information you can use to make good decisions about how and when to authenticate your cell lines.

Misidentification of human cell lines: Science vs. Policy – 2012

Dr. Yvonne Reid, a cell authentication specialist at ATCC, gave this presentation at the European Stem cell meeting held in San Diego, CA, this past February. Her talk describes the history of the problem and outlines how scientific policy can help to eradicate cell contamination and misidentification.

Development of a Consensus Standard for the Authentication of Human Cell lines: Standardization of STR Profiling – Part I: History

Dr. John Masters, of the University College London, provides an historical overview of the problem, highlights some examples of cell lines that are known to be contaminated or misidentified, and illustrates how these “false” lines have permeated the scientific literature.

Check your cultures! A list of cross-contaminated or misidentified cell Lines (Capes-Davis et al, 2010)
The authors of this study reviewed the publically available information on PubMed, Wikipedia, the website of the ATCC, and the websites of other cell repositories to develop a comprehensive list of cell lines known to be contaminated or misidentified.

See how ATCC combats cell  misidentification.