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Br J Cancer. 2004 Jan 26;90(2):476-82.

Variation in RNA expression and genomic DNA content acquired during cell culture.

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Department of Experimental Haematology, St Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine, Turner Street, London E1 2AD, UK.


Specific chromosomal abnormalities are increasingly recognised to be associated with particular tumour subtypes. These cytogenetic abnormalities define the sites of specific genes, the alteration of which is implicated in the neoplastic process. We used comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH) to examine DNA from different breast and ovarian cancer cell lines for variations in DNA sequence copy number compared with the same normal control. We also compared different sources of the MCF7 breast line by both CGH and cDNA expression arrays. Some of the differences between the subcultures were extensive and involved large regions of the chromosome. Differences between the four subcultures were observed for gains of 2q, 5p, 5q, 6q, 7p, 7q, 9q, 10p, 11q, 13q, 14q, 16q, 18p and 20p, and losses of 4q, 5p, 5q, 6q, 7q, 8p, 11p, 11q, 12q, 13q, 15q, 19p, 19q, 20p, 21q, 22q and Xp. However, few variations were found between two subcultures examined, 5 months apart, from the same initial source. The RNA arrays also demonstrated considerable variation between the three different subcultures, with only 43% of genes expressed at the same levels in all three. Moreover, the patterns of the expressed genes did not always reflect our observed CGH aberrations. These results demonstrate extensive genomic instability and variation in RNA expression during subculture and provide supportive data for evidence that cell lines do evolve in culture, thereby weakening the direct relevance of such cultures as models of human cancer. This work also reinforces the concern that comparisons of published analyses of cultures of the same name may be dangerous.

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