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Researchers have previously questioned the suitability of cell lines as models for primary cells. In this study, we used Raman microspectroscopy to characterize live A549 cells from a unique molecular biochemical perspective to shed light on their suitability as a model for primary human pulmonary alveolar type II (ATII) cells. We also investigated a recently developed transduced type I (TT1) cell line as a model for alveolar type I (ATI) cells. Single-cell Raman spectra provide unique biomolecular fingerprints that can be used to characterize cellular phenotypes. A multivariate statistical analysis of Raman spectra indicated that the spectra of A549 and TT1 cells are characterized by significantly lower phospholipid content compared to ATII and ATI spectra because their cytoplasm contains fewer surfactant lamellar bodies. Furthermore, we found that A549 spectra are statistically more similar to ATI spectra than to ATII spectra. The spectral variation permitted phenotypic classification of cells based on Raman spectral signatures with >99% accuracy. These results suggest that A549 cells are not a good model for ATII cells, but TT1 cells do provide a reasonable model for ATI cells. The findings have far-reaching implications for the assessment of cell lines as suitable primary cellular models in live cultures. © 2010 by the Biophysical Society.

Original publication




Journal article


Biophysical Journal

Publication Date





1703 - 1711