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Cell Line Choice

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The choice of cell line, primary cells, or multicellular developmental model is critical for live cell analysis. Many cellular model systems have particular growth characteristics or behaviors that make them unsuitable for live cell analysis, while others seem ideally suited and can tolerate the sometimes less than ideal “living” conditions often necessary for live cell analysis, particularly for extended time analyses.

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Primary Cells

Primary cell lines, being extracted directly from tissue, are often an attractive choice in live cell analysis because they are presumably closer to their natural origins and thus may be more relevant in predictive cell culture. There are a large number of primary cultures that can be extracted and maintained from tissues; however, most have similar limitations in growth rate, passaging, and maintaining in vivo-like characteristics. The more passaging that is done, the less a primary cell culture is truly “primary”. They are often less controllable than cell lines so it is widely acknowledged that when using primary cultures, know your source populations well, control their culture environment carefully, and validate their phenotypes periodically (such as with antibody staining patterns and karyotyping).

Example of Primary Cultures Useful for Live Cell Analysis
Cell TypeOriginCommonly used SpeciesSample Application/ Uses
Astrocytes/ Microvascular Endothelial cells Brain Mouse / human Blood brain barrier
Microglia Brain Mouse / human Inflammatory, neurodegeneration
Vascular pericytes Brain Rat Stroke
Oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) Brain Mouse / Human Myelination, Neural repair, MS
Endothelial and SM cells Cardiac Human CVD
Renal glomerular cells Kidney Mouse / Human Renal disease, Diabetes
Epidermal Skin Mouse / Rat / Human Cancer, transmigration, skin models
Epithelial Eye / linings Mouse / Rat / Human Cancer, Transmigration
Hepatic Liver Mouse / Rat / Human Toxicology, cancer
Mononuclear immune cells Bone marrow Mouse / Human Immune differentiation,response, cancer

Cell Lines

With the plethora of cell lines available today the choice for investigators is quite large. Many cell lines today have become the “go to” cell line for examining particular cellular events such as apoptosis, or cellular transport. Researchers should certainly consult the growing literature available using live cell analysis and use it for guidance. Instrumentation improvements continue to expand our ability to control and define both the extrinsic and intrinsic factors necessary for even the most sensitive cell cultures.

Example Cell Lines Useful for Live Cell Analysis
Cell LineCell TypeOriginSpeciesSample Application/ Uses
B-16 Spindle Melanoma Mouse Cancer, melanoma studies
BAE-1 Endothelial Aorta endothelium Bovine Endothelial barriers
BHK-21 Fibroblast Kidney Hamster Cytoskeletal dynamics
CACO-2 Epithelial Colon Human Transport studies, cell junctions
CHO-K1 Epithelial Ovary Hamster EGFR mutations, Drug transport
HEK293 Epithelial / endothelial Kidney Human RNAi, channels, metabolism, viral infections
HELA Epithelial Cervix Human Cellular processes, apoptosis, cancer research
Hep G2 Epithelial Liver Human Liver metabolism, cell polarization
L929 Epithelial Connective tissue Mouse Apoptosis, cytokine response
LT2 Epithelial Pancreas Human Cancer, anchorage dependence
MCF-7 Epithelial Mammary Human Apoptosis, cancer, estrogen receptor research
MDCK Epithelial Kidney Dog Cytokeratin, Cell Junction studies
NIH-3T3 Fibroblast Embryo Mouse Fibroblast metabolism, cell division, cell cycle
PC-12 Aggregate Adrenal Gland Rat Nerve Growth Factor response, neurite formation
PtK2 Epithelial Kidney Rat
Mitosis, cytoskeletal studies, intracellular transport
SH-SY5Y Epithelial Brain, Neuroblastoma Human Neuronal differentiation
Vero Epithelial Kidney Primate Parasite studies, toxicology
WIF-B2 Epithelial Liver Rat Membrane trafficking / Targeting, polarity
AB9 Fibroblast Developmental Zebrafish Development

See Merck’s extensive line of human cell systems for live cell analysis

Microbial Culture

Yeast, bacterial, and fungal cultures are also being studied using in live cell platforms for a variety of research topics including host pathogen interactions, infection, toxicology/drug response, chemotaxis/migration, microenvironment dynamics, microbiome, and bacterial or yeast single cell analysis.

Cell images of (A) an invasive strain and (B) non-invasive strain of E. colia after exposure to human HT-20 cells.
Cell images of (A) an invasive strain and (B) non-invasive strain of E. colia after exposure to human HT-20 cells.


Application Note Download:

Read about live cell analysis of host pathogen interactions in long term cultures.

 Download Application Note

Multicellular Developmental Models

Since the advent of molecular genetics, certain multicellular models have emerged as extremely useful systems for the study of development, genetic manipulations, toxicity, signaling, neural processing, liver and digestive tract function, and behavior.

Examples of Animal Models Used in Live Cell Analysis
SpeciesCharacteristicsSample Application/ Uses
Zebrafish Defined genetics, optically clear embryo Organ development, Neural connectivity, physiology, oxidative stress
Drosophila Defined, manipulatable genetics, short lifecycle Genetics, Organ development, Neural connectivity
C. Elegans Defined genetics and limited cell types Genetics, early development, cellular interactions