Continuous cell line

Last updated on November 24th, 2018

At any time during the culture of a cell strain, cells in the culture may become transformed, meaning that they are no longer subject to crisis and senescence but can be passage indefinitely i.e. they will have infinite lifespan. Immortal cell cultures are called continuous cell lines, to distinguish them from primary cultures and cell strains which have definite lifespan.

Senescence:Normal cells usually divide only a limited number of times before losing their ability to proliferate, which is a genetically determined event.

Immortalization can occur spontaneously during passage of a cell strain, or it can be induced by

  • treatment with chemical mutagens,
  • infection with tumorigenic viruses, or
  • transfection with oncogenes.

In addition, cells cultured from tumor tissue frequently establish immortal cell lines in culture.


Also known as heteroploid cultures, continuous cells lines are termed so as they can be serially cultivated indefinitely. The standard continuous cell lines have been derived from human cancer cells such as HeLa (derived from cervical cancer of a lady, HeLa by name), Hep2, and KB cells.

Continuous cells lines are maintained either by serial subculture or by storing in deep freeze at -70°C.

Some of the distinguishing properties of continuous cell lines are:

  1. Cells of a single type capable of infinite growth In Vitro.
  2. Grow faster and their chromosomes are haploid
  3. Derived from immortalized cell lines (cancer cells) often of epithelial origin
  4. Are not used for the preparation of viral vaccines as vaccines prepared in cancer cells are considered unsafe for human use.

Uses of Cell lines

Most of the cell cultures used in the diagnostic laboratories are continuous cells lines. The specimen is introduced into the cell culture medium and the presence of viruses is detected by observing the cells for a cytopathic effect (CPE). Cell culture techniques are specialized and labor intensive and some viruses either causes no cytopathic effects or cause a CPE that takes a week or more to evolve.

Name of the virus Cell lines used
Influenza Virus Primary Monkey Kidney Cell
Madin-Darby Kidney Cell line (MDCK)
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Primary Human Embryonic cell or

Human diploid cell lines eg. MRC-5

Measles Virus Primary Human Fetal Kidney Cell
Rabies Virus Murine Lymphoblastoma Cell
Dengue Virus Intrathoracic or intra cerebral inoculation of Toxorhynchites mosquito. Mosquito cell lines eg.. Ap-61, TRA 248 etc.
HIV Phytohemagglutinin Stimulated Peripheral Blood mononuclear cell

Difference between Primary and Continuous Cell Culture

Properties Primary Cell Culture Continuous Cell Culture
Source Mixture of cells freshly derived from the tissue of origin e.g., laboratory animal, human biopsy sample etc. Mixture of cells derived from human and animal tumors.
Life span Cell line derived from primary culture has limited lifespan.  They usually divide only limited number of times before losing their ability to proliferate ( a genetically determined event known as senescence) Can be sub-cultured indefinitely.
Morphological change All the cells retain their normal karyotype Cells will not display same karyotype.
About Acharya Tankeshwar 466 Articles
Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. I am working as an Asst. Professor and Microbiologist at Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. If you want me to write about any posts that you found confusing/difficult, please mention in the comments below.


  1. Sir give me brief notes about application of animal cell culture for the study of gene expression

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