Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

*Savaskan and Nitsch, forced to retract FASEB J paper, correct Cell study with duplicated figure

with 6 comments

In August, we wrote about the complicated case of a paper retracted from FASEB Journal that had originally been slated for a correction instead. There had been allegations of misconduct by one of the authors, Nicolai E. Savaskan, and the key parts of the retraction notice for the paper were as follows:

A well-recognized and top-class fact finding commission concluded that the publication contains gross flaws. A key figure (Figure 14) and the conclusions drawn from it could not be underlined with the corresponding primary data.

Savaskan told us at the time that FASEB Journal had agreed to a correction of the figure in question, but ended up retracting the paper after receiving a letter from Annette Gruters-Kieslich at Charite – Universitatsmedizin Berlin, where the work was done. We didn’t get much of an answer from FASEB Journal about why they changed their minds.

*Since understanding why one paper warrants a correction and another gets retracted is important for us at Retraction Watch, a correction of a 2009 Cell paper by a group that included Savaskan and his FASEB J c0-author Robert Nitsch caught our eye. The correction for “Synaptic PRG-1 Modulates Excitatory Transmission via Lipid Phosphate-Mediated Signaling” — a paper cited nine times so far, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge — ran in the September 16, 2011 issue of Cell:

It has been brought to our attention that, in Figure 2C of the article above, the in vivo recordings for P22 PRG-1 KO mice are identical. Upon re-examination of the original recordings, we found that the recording from the right hemisphere was mistakenly used to also represent the recording from the left hemisphere. All in vivo recordings and related figures were made by Sebastian Schuchmann.

The corrected figure with the appropriate recording for the left hemisphere is now presented below. This error was exclusive to P22 of Figure 2C and does not affect the article beyond Figure 2C, neither the original data underlying Figure 2C nor the description in the Results section or the conclusions resulting from these data. We apologize for the mistake and for any inconvenience caused to the readers, and we thank the alert reader who discovered the error.

So why was one paper retracted, while the other was corrected? Although both involve figure errors, the details seem different. We asked Cell for their rationale. Senior deputy editor Elena Porro tells Retraction Watch:

After editorial consideration of the information that we had received about the 2009 Cell paper, we decided that an Erratum to correct the panel was the appropriate course of action.  The outcomes for the FASEB and Cell papers are based on different circumstances and data.  We cannot speculate on FASEB’s decision to retract a paper they published as we do not know any of the particulars of that situation.

Clearly, the case remains complex and we suspect there will be more news about it. We’ll stay on top of it.

Update, 12:30 p.m. Eastern, 9/29/11: Title and sentence with asterisk changed to clarify which authors were shared between the two papers.

Hat tip: Commenter scotus

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 27th, 2011 at 11:13 am

  • Markus Kuehbacher September 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

    The erratum of the publication in Cell entitled “Synaptic PRG-1 Modulates Excitatory Transmission via Lipid Phosphate-Mediated Signaling” is a real erratum in contrast to the mentioned but never published erratum in FASEB. Comparing Figure 2C with Abbildung 27 on page 71 in the PhD thesis published already on May 13, 2009 ( shows that only the photograph of the mouse in Figure 2B might be still incorrect and should have been corrected too.

    However, there are other questions:

    Why are the SPW peak-triggered averages so similar in Figure 3C?

    Did the authors pooled the samples for protein analysis of the PSD fractions prepared from PRG-1 KO and WT mice (Figure 6B) in contrast to the analysis presented in the PhD thesis in Abbildung 33 on page 77 with n (WT) = 8 and n (KO) = 8?

    While I am sure that these questions can be answered, the questions related to the retracted publication about the NOGO protein and the not yet published erratum should not be answered without first speaking to an attorney.

  • DB September 27, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    In both the original and corrected versions, the P20 traces in 2C are identical up to the red arrow indicated in the right hemisphere. This would suggest they stitched together two traces.

    • V September 30, 2011 at 8:59 am

      You’re right! How likely is it that brain signals could be so regular?

    • NotSoFast December 13, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      No, the P20 traces in 2C in the right and left hemispheres are not IDENTICAL, they do look similar but are not IDENTICAL. Look carefully…

  • scotus September 27, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Maybe it would be better to change the title of this post to refer to both the Savaskan and Nitsch groups as being responsible for the FASEB J retraction and Cell correction since Nitsch is the corresponding author of the Cell paper?

    • ivanoransky September 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      We made a few changes to clarify which authors are shared. Thanks for the suggestion.

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