Preferential transformation of human neuronal cells by human adenoviruses and the origin of HEK 293 cells

FASEB J. 2002 Jun;16(8):869-71. doi: 10.1096/fj.01-0995fje. Epub 2002 Apr 10.


The 293 cell line was derived by transformation of primary cultures of human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells with sheared adenovirus (Ad)5 DNA. A combination of immunostaining, immunoblot, and microarray analysis showed that 293 cells express the neurofilament (NF) subunits NF-L, NF-M, NF-H, and a-internexin as well as many other proteins typically found in neurons. Three other independently derived HEK lines, two transformed by Ad5 and one by Ad12, also expressed NFs, as did one human embryonic retinal cell line transformed with Ad5. Two rodent kidney lines transformed with Ad12 were also found to express NF proteins, although several rodent kidney cell lines transformed by Ad5 DNA and three HEK cell lines transformed by the SV40 early region did not express NFs. These results suggest that human Ads preferentially transform human neuronal lineage cells. We also demonstrate that the widely used HEK293 cells have an unexpected relationship to neurons, a finding that may require reinterpretation of many previous studies in which it was assumed that HEK293 cells resembled more typical kidney epithelial cells.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoviruses, Human / genetics
  • Adenoviruses, Human / physiology*
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Cell Transformation, Viral*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins
  • Keratins / genetics
  • Keratins / metabolism
  • Neurofilament Proteins / genetics
  • Neurofilament Proteins / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / virology
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Vimentin / genetics
  • Vimentin / metabolism


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins
  • Neurofilament Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Vimentin
  • alpha-internexin
  • Keratins