Capes-Davis A, Theodosopoulos G, Atkin I, Drexler HG, Kohara A, MacLeod RA, Masters JR, Nakamura Y, Reid YA, Reddel RR, Freshney RI.
Continuous cell lines consist of cultured cells derived from a specific donor and tissue of origin that have acquired the ability to proliferate indefinitely. These cell lines are well-recognized models for the study of health and disease, particularly for cancer. However, there are cautions to be aware of when using continuous cell lines, including the possibility of contamination, in which a foreign cell line or microorganism is introduced without the handler's knowledge. Cross-contamination, in which the contaminant is another cell line, was first recognized in the 1950s but, disturbingly, remains a serious issue today. Many cell lines become cross-contaminated early, so that subsequent experimental work has been performed only on the contaminant, masquerading under a different name. What can be done in response-how can a researcher know if their own cell lines are cross-contaminated? Two practical responses are suggested here. First, it is important to check the literature, looking for previous work on cross-contamination. Some reports may be difficult to find and to make these more accessible, we have compiled a list of known cross-contaminated cell lines. The list currently contains 360 cell lines, drawn from 68 references. Most contaminants arise within the same species, with HeLa still the most frequently encountered (29%, 106/360) among human cell lines, but interspecies contaminants account for a small but substantial minority of cases (9%, 33/360). Second, even if there are no previous publications on cross-contamination for that cell line, it is essential to check the sample itself by performing authentication testing.