Cell lines: Valuable tools or useless artifacts

Spermatogenesis. 2012 Jan 1;2(1):1-5. doi: 10.4161/spmg.19885.


Cell lines are often used in place of primary cells to study biological processes. However, care must be taken when interpreting the results as cell lines do not always accurately replicate the primary cells. In this article, we will briefly talk about advantages and disadvantages of cell lines and then discuss results using the mouse Sertoli cell line, MSC-1, compared with primary mouse Sertoli cells. MSC-1 cells resemble Sertoli cells morphologically and possess several biochemical markers associated with Sertoli cells. Studies have demonstrated that the function and regulation of retinoic acid receptor α (RARα) is similar between MSC-1 and rat Sertoli cells. However, MSC-1 cells lack some of the immune privilege properties associated with primary Sertoli cells, including survival in animals with a fully functional immune system. Therefore, it has to be kept in mind that cell lines do not behave identically with primary cells and should not be used to replace primary cells. In order to strengthen the findings, key control experiments using primary cells should always be performed.