Origin of the U87MG glioma cell line: Good news and bad news

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Science Translational Medicine  31 Aug 2016:
Vol. 8, Issue 354, pp. 354re3
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf6853

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U87MG: Not what it used to be

A cell line commonly used for research on gliomas is found to be different from the original tumor from which it was derived. The authors, whose laboratory developed the cell line almost 50 years ago, compared the genetics of this line (obtained from ATCC) with those of the original tumor. They report that the DNA profile of the current cell line differs from that of the original cells but that it is likely to be a human glioblastoma cell line with unknown origins. This misidentification of a widely studied cell line reinforces the need for researchers to carefully validate the cell lines used in their research.


Human tumor–derived cell lines are indispensable tools for basic and translational oncology. They have an infinite life span and are easy to handle and scalable, and results can be obtained with high reproducibility. However, a tumor-derived cell line may not be authentic to the tumor of origin. Two major questions emerge: Have the identity of the donor and the actual tumor origin of the cell line been accurately determined? To what extent does the cell line reflect the phenotype of the tumor type of origin? The importance of these questions is greatest in translational research. We have examined these questions using genetic profiling and transcriptome analysis in human glioma cell lines. We find that the DNA profile of the widely used glioma cell line U87MG is different from that of the original cells and that it is likely to be a bona fide human glioblastoma cell line of unknown origin.

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