Primary cells are often used to study viral replication and host-virus interactions as their antiviral pathways have not been altered or inactivated; however, their use is restricted by their short lifespan. Conventional methods to extend the life of primary cultures typically utilize viral oncogenes. Many of these oncogenes, however, perturb or inactivate cellular antiviral pathways, including the interferon (IFN) response. It has been previously shown that expression of the telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) gene extends the life of certain cell types. The effect that TERT expression has on the innate antiviral response to RNA- and DNA-containing viruses has not been examined. In the current study, we introduced the human TERT (hTERT) gene into a primary human embryonic lung (HEL-299) cell strain, which is known to respond to the type I IFN, IFN-β. We show that the resulting HEL-TERT cell line is capable of replicating beyond 100 population doublings without exhibiting signs of senescence. Treatment with IFN-β resulted in the upregulation of four model IFN stimulated genes (ISGs) in HEL-299 and HEL-TERT cells. Both cell lines supported the replication of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) and impaired the replication of both viruses upon IFN-β pretreatment. Introduction of the viral oncoprotein, simian virus 40 (SV40) large T-antigen, which is frequently used to immortalize cells, largely negated this effect. Taken together, our data indicate that expression of hTERT does not alter type 1 IFN signaling and/or the growth of two viruses, making this cell line a useful reagent for studying viral replication and virus-cell interactions.
Smith, M. C., Goddard, E. T., Perusina Lanfranca, M., & Davido, D. J. (2013). hTERT Extends the Life of Human Fibroblasts without Compromising Type I Interferon Signaling. PLoS ONE, 8(3). http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0058233