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The glioblastoma U-87MG does not match its original tumour



The issue of cell line authentication is prevalent and the technologies for analysis have become more advanced, so it is inevitable that some lines that have been considered “authentic” for decades may be revealed as being misidentified. When these situations are uncovered it is of upmost importance that the findings are communicated to laboratories using these cell lines.

ECACC's  number one priority is to provide authentic cell lines, however, in most cases there has not been original donor material available for genetic comparison to verify cell identity.   

A recent study published in Science Translational Medicine has reported that the glioblastoma cell line, U87MG, has a different genetic profile to the original tumour it was isolated from almost 50 years ago. The retrospective analysis looked at both the source tumour and original U-87MG cultures from the authors’ laboratory in Uppsala, Sweden and compared them to widely available versions of the U-87MG cells. The results indicate that, at some point in the last 50 years, the cell line has been contaminated with those of a different origin.  

This issue appears to be universal amongst all major repositories, with the genetic profile of publically available databases also not matching the source tumour profile. Investigation of ECACC U-87MG cells has shown they do not match the original tumour profile but are consistent with other available sources.

Despite the undesirable findings reported in this study, all hope is not lost; the group show the imposter U87MG cell line is still likely to be a human glioblastoma based on its transcriptional profile. Fortunately, this justifies its use in human brain cancer research and, perhaps more importantly, does not invalidate the wealth of research already published using this cell line.

This publication highlights the importance of cell line authentication and is a welcome finding which adds to the understanding of specific cell lines.  All cultures available from ECACC undergo stringent genetic profiling  to ensure they match the originating deposit or widely accepted reference profiles. In addition, ECACC also offers a cell line authentication service to ensure cells already in use are of the correct identity.


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  • Allen, M., Bjerke, M., Edlund, H., Nelander, S. & Westermark, B. Sci. Trans. Med. 8, 354re3 (2016)
  • J. Pontén, E. H. Macintyre, Long term culture of normal and neoplastic human glia. Acta Pathol. Microbiol. Scand.74, 465–486 (1968)



December 2016

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