Fetal Bovine Serum RNA Interferes With the Cell Culture Derived Extracellular RNA

Sci Rep. 2016 Aug 9;6:31175. doi: 10.1038/srep31175.


Fetal bovine serum (FBS) has been used in eukaryotic cell cultures for decades. However, little attention has been paid to the biological effects associated with RNA content of FBS on cell cultures. Here, using RNA sequencing, we demonstrate that FBS contains a diverse repertoire of protein-coding and regulatory RNA species, including mRNA, miRNA, rRNA, and snoRNA. The majority of them (>70%) are retained even after extended ultracentrifugation in the preparations of vesicle-depleted FBS (vdFBS) commonly utilized in the studies of extracellular vesicles (EV) and intercellular communication. FBS-associated RNA is co-isolated with cell-culture derived extracellular RNA (exRNA) and interferes with the downstream RNA analysis. Many evolutionally conserved FBS-derived RNA species can be falsely annotated as human or mouse transcripts. Notably, specific miRNAs abundant in FBS, such as miR-122, miR-451a and miR-1246, have been previously reported as enriched in cell-culture derived EVs, possibly due to the confounding effect of the FBS. Analysis of publically available exRNA datasets supports the notion of FBS contamination. Furthermore, FBS transcripts can be taken up by cultured cells and affect the results of highly sensitive gene expression profiling technologies. Therefore, precautions for experimental design are warranted to minimize the interference and misinterpretations caused by FBS-derived RNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell-Derived Microparticles / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • MicroRNAs* / chemistry
  • MicroRNAs* / pharmacology
  • RAW 264.7 Cells
  • Serum / chemistry*


  • MicroRNAs