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Hum Mol Genet. 2011 Apr 15;20(8):1643-52. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddr041. Epub 2011 Feb 2.

The effects of EBV transformation on gene expression levels and methylation profiles.

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Department of Human Genetics, University of Chicago, 920 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.

Erratum in

  • Hum Mol Genet. 2012 May 1;21(9):2142.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) transformed lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) provide a conveniently accessible and renewable resource for functional genomic studies in humans. The ability to accumulate multidimensional data pertaining to the same individual cell lines, from complete genomic sequences to detailed gene regulatory profiles, further enhances the utility of LCLs as a model system. A lingering concern, however, is that the changes associated with EBV transformation of B cells reduce the usefulness of LCLs as a surrogate model for primary tissues. To evaluate the validity of this concern, we compared global gene expression and methylation profiles between CD20+ primary B cells sampled from six individuals and six independent replicates of transformed LCLs derived from each sample. These data allowed us to obtain a detailed catalog of the genes and pathways whose regulation is affected by EBV transformation. We found that the expression levels and promoter methylation profiles of more than half of the studied genes were affected by the EBV transformation, including enrichments of genes involved in transcription regulation, cell cycle and immune response. However, we show that most of the differences in gene expression levels between LCLs and B cells are of small magnitude, and that LCLs can often recapitulate the naturally occurring gene expression variation in primary B cells. Thus, our observations suggest that inference of the genetic architecture that underlies regulatory variation in LCLs can typically be generalized to primary B cells. In contrast, inference based on functional studies in LCLs may be more limited to the cell lines.

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