Detection of reverse transcriptase activity in human melanoma cell lines and identification of a murine leukemia virus contaminant

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BackgroundStimulated by earlier reports on the presence of retroviruses in mouse and hamster melanoma cell lines, we addressed the question as to whether human melanoma cell lines might also harbour a retrovirus.Methods and resultsThe melanoma cell lines SK-MEL-25, SK-MEL-28, MEL-JUSO, MML-I, MeWo, A-375, Colo-38, BS-780 were confirmed to be human by human leucocyte antigen (HLA) typing, and supernatants were tested by the product-enhanced reverse transcriptase (PERT) assay for reverse transcriptase (RT) activity. Cell lines SK-MEL-25, SK-MEL-28, MEL-JUSO and MML-I were positive, whereas cell lines MeWo, A-375, Colo-38 and BS-780 were negative. The RT activity peaked at a buoyant density in sucrose typical for retroviruses. From this peak fraction an R-U5 sequence indistinguishable from murine leukemia virus (MLV) was identified by particle-associated retrovirus RNA amplification (PARRA). Semiquantitative MLV-specific RNA-PCR demonstrated colocalization of the MLV-like RNA and RT activity on the sucrose gradient of SK-Mel-25. MLV RNA and DNA were also detectable in culture supernatants of SK-MEL-28, MEL-JUSO and MML-I, but not of MeWo, A-375, Colo-38 and BS-780 by semiquantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Sequence comparison revealed highest homology with the RET sequence previously identified in mouse myeloma SP2/0-AG14 cells. Taken together, our data strongly suggest that certain human melanoma cell lines are productively infected by a MLV which was probably introduced during tumour passage in mice or by laboratory contamination many years ago and subsequently spread to other lines.ConclusionWe recommend mandatory testing of melanoma and other human cell lines for contamination with infectious MLV or other animal retroviruses, similar to mycoplasma screening, in order to avoid artificial experimental data.

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