HEK293 cell line: a vehicle for the expression of recombinant proteins

J Pharmacol Toxicol Methods. May-Jun 2005;51(3):187-200. doi: 10.1016/j.vascn.2004.08.014.


The HEK cell line has been extensively used as an expression tool for recombinant proteins since it was generated over 25 years ago. Although of epithelial origin, its biochemical machinery is capable of carrying out most of the post-translational folding and processing required to generate functional, mature protein from a wide spectrum of both mammalian and non-mammalian nucleic acids. Though popular as a transient expression system, this cell type has also seen wide use in stably transfected forms (i.e. transformed cells) to study a variety of cell-biological questions in neurobiology. The principal attributes which have made the HEK cell a popular choice among electrophysiologists to study isolated receptor channels include; its quick and easy reproduction and maintenance; amenability to transfection using a wide variety of methods; high efficiency of transfection and protein production; faithful translation and processing of proteins; and small cell size with minimal processes appropriate for voltage-clamp experimentation. These, and other attributes, also mean that complementary biochemical/cell biological evaluations of expressed proteins can be performed in concert with functional analyses to establish detailed pharmacological and biophysical profiles for the action of new drugs and their targets. The increased amount of sequence information available from the human genome has placed greater emphasis upon heterologous cell expression systems as targets for high throughput structure-function evaluation of novel drug targets and disease markers. Here we have highlighted some of the innate characteristics of the HEK cell in order that its suitability as a vehicle for the expression of a gene product can be assessed for particular needs. We have also detailed some of the standard methods used for transfection and obtaining functional data from electrophysiological recording techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cytological Techniques
  • Electrophysiology
  • Humans
  • Kidney / cytology
  • Kidney / embryology
  • Kidney / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology
  • Recombinant Proteins / biosynthesis*


  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Recombinant Proteins