RNA Sequencing Analysis Reveals HeLa Cell Contamination

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) cell lines are important model systems for analyzing the complex life cycle and pathogenesis of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Using an RNA-seq-based approach, researchers from Tulane University Health Sciences Center found HeLa cell contamination in several NPC cell lines that are commonly used in the EBV and related fields. Their data support the notion that contamination resulted from somatic hybridization with HeLa cells, likely occurring at the point of cell line establishment. Given the rarity of NPCs, the long history of NPC cell lines, and the lack of rigorous cell line authentication, it is likely that the actual prevalence and impact of HeLa cell contamination on the EBV field might be greater. They therefore recommend cell line authentication prior to performing experiments using NPC cell lines to avoid inaccurate conclusions. The novel RNA-seq-based cell authentication approach reported here can serve as a comprehensive method for validating cell lines.


Strong MJ, Baddoo M, Nanbo A, Xu M, Puetter A, Lin Z. (2014) Comprehensive High-Throughput RNA Sequencing Analysis Reveals Contamination of Multiple Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Cell Lines with HeLa Cell Genomes. J Virol 88(18):10696-704. [abstract]