Cell Line vs. Cell Strain

What's the Difference?

Cell line and cell strain are both terms used in cell culture, but they refer to different concepts. A cell line is a population of cells that have been derived from a single cell and can be propagated indefinitely in culture. These cells are often immortalized, meaning they can divide indefinitely without undergoing senescence or cell death. In contrast, a cell strain refers to a population of cells that have been derived from a single cell but have a limited lifespan in culture. These cells can undergo a finite number of divisions before they reach senescence or undergo cell death. Therefore, while cell lines are commonly used for long-term studies and experiments, cell strains are more suitable for short-term experiments or when studying specific cellular processes that occur within a limited time frame.


AttributeCell LineCell Strain
DefinitionA population of cells derived from a single cell or a small number of cellsA population of cells derived from a single cell or a small number of cells
OriginCan be derived from primary cells, tissues, or tumorsCan be derived from primary cells, tissues, or tumors
Growth CharacteristicsCan be immortalized and have an indefinite lifespanCan be immortalized and have an indefinite lifespan
Genetic StabilityMay exhibit genetic alterations over timeMay exhibit genetic alterations over time
AuthenticationShould be authenticated to ensure identity and purityShould be authenticated to ensure identity and purity
AvailabilityCommercially available from cell banksCommercially available from cell banks
ApplicationsUsed in research, drug discovery, and biotechnologyUsed in research, drug discovery, and biotechnology

Further Detail


Cell lines and cell strains are essential tools in biological research, allowing scientists to study various cellular processes and diseases in a controlled environment. While both terms are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to distinct entities with unique attributes. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of cell lines and cell strains, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Cell Line

A cell line is a population of cells derived from a single cell that has undergone immortalization, enabling it to proliferate indefinitely under specific culture conditions. These conditions typically involve the use of growth factors, hormones, and a suitable culture medium. Cell lines are commonly used in research due to their ability to provide a consistent and unlimited supply of cells for experimentation.

One of the key attributes of cell lines is their stability. Once established, cell lines can be maintained for long periods without significant changes in their genetic or phenotypic characteristics. This stability allows researchers to replicate experiments and compare results over time, ensuring the reliability and reproducibility of their findings.

Cell lines also offer the advantage of homogeneity. Since they are derived from a single cell, they are composed of cells with identical genetic makeup and phenotypic traits. This uniformity simplifies experimental design and data interpretation, as any observed variations can be attributed to specific treatments or conditions.

Furthermore, cell lines are often well-characterized, with extensive information available regarding their origin, genetic profile, and behavior. This knowledge facilitates the selection of appropriate cell lines for specific research purposes, ensuring that the chosen cell line possesses the desired characteristics and is suitable for the intended experiments.

However, it is important to note that cell lines can accumulate genetic alterations over time, leading to changes in their behavior and properties. These alterations can arise spontaneously or due to prolonged culture conditions, resulting in the development of subclones within the cell line. Therefore, regular monitoring and authentication of cell lines are crucial to ensure their fidelity and reliability.

Cell Strain

A cell strain, on the other hand, refers to a population of cells derived from a primary culture or tissue sample that has a limited lifespan and finite replicative capacity. Unlike cell lines, cell strains cannot be propagated indefinitely and eventually undergo senescence or cell death after a certain number of divisions.

Cell strains are often used when studying primary cells, which closely resemble cells in their natural environment. These cells retain many of their original characteristics and physiological functions, making them valuable for investigating specific biological processes or disease mechanisms.

One of the main attributes of cell strains is their relevance to in vivo conditions. Since they are derived directly from tissues or organs, cell strains provide a more accurate representation of the in vivo environment compared to cell lines. This characteristic is particularly important when studying complex cellular interactions or evaluating the effects of drugs or treatments.

Another advantage of cell strains is their ability to exhibit differentiation potential. Unlike cell lines, which are often derived from transformed or immortalized cells, cell strains can differentiate into specialized cell types under appropriate conditions. This feature allows researchers to investigate cellular differentiation processes and study the development of specific cell lineages.

However, the limited lifespan of cell strains can pose challenges in experimental design and execution. Researchers must carefully plan their experiments to ensure that the desired data can be obtained within the lifespan of the cell strain. Additionally, the finite replicative capacity of cell strains necessitates the establishment of new strains from primary cultures or tissue samples, which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.


Cell lines and cell strains are valuable tools in biological research, each with its own set of attributes and applications. Cell lines offer stability, homogeneity, and unlimited proliferation, making them suitable for long-term studies and large-scale experiments. On the other hand, cell strains provide a more physiologically relevant model, allowing researchers to study primary cells and their interactions in a controlled environment. They also possess differentiation potential, enabling investigations into cellular differentiation processes. Ultimately, the choice between cell lines and cell strains depends on the specific research objectives and the nature of the biological system under investigation.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.