Investigating the suitability of in vitro cell lines as models for the major subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer

Aideen McCabe, Oza Zaheed, Simon Samuel McDade, Kellie Dean*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


Epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) is the most fatal gynaecological malignancy, accounting for over 200,000 deaths worldwide per year. EOC is a highly heterogeneous disease, classified into five major histological subtypes-high-grade serous (HGSOC), clear cell (CCOC), endometrioid (ENOC), mucinous (MOC) and low-grade serous (LGSOC) ovarian carcinomas. Classification of EOCs is clinically beneficial, as the various subtypes respond differently to chemotherapy and have distinct prognoses. Cell lines are often used as in vitro models for cancer, allowing researchers to explore pathophysiology in a relatively cheap and easy to manipulate system. However, most studies that make use of EOC cell lines fail to recognize the importance of subtype. Furthermore, the similarity of cell lines to their cognate primary tumors is often ignored. Identification of cell lines with high molecular similarity to primary tumors is needed in order to better guide pre-clinical EOC research and to improve development of targeted therapeutics and diagnostics for each distinctive subtype. This study aims to generate a reference dataset of cell lines representative of the major EOC subtypes. We found that non-negative matrix factorization (NMF) optimally clustered fifty-six cell lines into five groups, putatively corresponding to each of the five EOC subtypes. These clusters validated previous histological groupings, while also classifying other previously unannotated cell lines. We analysed the mutational and copy number landscapes of these lines to investigate whether they harboured the characteristic genomic alterations of each subtype. Finally we compared the gene expression profiles of cell lines with 93 primary tumor samples stratified by subtype, to identify lines with the highest molecular similarity to HGSOC, CCOC, ENOC, and MOC. In summary, we examined the molecular features of both EOC cell lines and primary tumors of multiple subtypes. We recommend a reference set of cell lines most suited to represent four different subtypes of EOC for both in silico and in vitro studies. We also identify lines displaying poor overall molecular similarity to EOC tumors, which we argue should be avoided in pre-clinical studies. Ultimately, our work emphasizes the importance of choosing suitable cell line models to maximise clinical relevance of experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1104514
JournalFrontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2023 McCabe, Zaheed, McDade and Dean.


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