Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

A non-unanimous retraction in PNAS after authors are “unable to reproduce the data”

with 8 comments

A group of authors has retracted a 2009 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) after subsequent experiments suggested their original results weren’t holding up.

According to the notice for the paper, which has been cited 8 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge:

Retraction for “GCK is essential to systemic inflammation and pattern recognition receptor signaling to JNK and p38,” by Jian Zhong, L. Cristina Gavrilescu, Árpád Molnár, Lauren Murray, Stephen Garafalo, John H. Kehrl, Amy R. Simon, Richard A. Van Etten, and John M. Kyriakis, which appeared in issue 11, March 17, 2009, of Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (106:4372–4377; first published February 25, 2009; 10.1073/pnas.0812642106).

The undersigned authors wish to note the following: “Upon rederivation of the gck-/- mouse line, we have been unable to reproduce the data showing that disruption of gck impairs PAMP activation of JNK and p38. We also cannot reproduce the finding that administration of PAMPs leads to the signal-dependent stabilization of endognous GCK. Inasmuch as these signal transduction findings supported a central conclusion of the above article, we wish to retract this article in its entirety.”

But not all of the authors were on that list of the undersigned. The first author, Jian Zhong, didn’t sign. We tried reaching him to ask why, but while his Tufts profile page is still active, his Tufts email bounced.

So what made the authors rederive their cell lines? We’ve asked senior author John Kyriakis for more details, but he referred us to the Tufts media affairs office. They tell us:

Dr. Zhong left our institution for another opportunity several years ago, and he didn’t respond to our attempts to reach him regarding the retraction.

Hat tip: Vladimir Svetlov

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 16th, 2012 at 9:30 am

  • Pymoladdict March 16, 2012 at 10:27 am

    I’d hate to be in these guys’ shoes, well, labcoats. Redoing mouse strains to deal with some reproducibility issues is a pain, and a drain on resources. Good thing Kyriakis and remaining authors dealt with the issue openly rather than sweeping it under the rug. I remember asking a rather prominent group for a strain published several times over, and got an answer that there was problem with it, the student who made it left, and they didn’t distribute it anymore. The papers though are still there, and no public acknowledgement of the “problem”. So this is very decent and proper.

  • Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) March 16, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Was it one of those much-discussed PNAS “direct submissions” I wonder… yes, it was!

    The numbers are probably too small to be meaningful but I wonder if they’re more likely to be retracted than other PNAS papers. Or less.

  • Conrad T Seitz MD March 16, 2012 at 10:53 am

    @Neuroskeptic: is that a picture of a naked brain with two eyeballs attached on the front? The image is only 32 pixels square, so it’s hard to see. maybe if you changed the colors…
    love, puzzled monkey.

  • Conrad T Seitz MD March 16, 2012 at 11:01 am

    But seriously, are mouse genetic lines really hard to maintain/reproduce? Details? Guessing that you need rather detailed instructions to recreate a line if the original mice have died out. If reproducibility hinges on breeding mouse strains with specific genetic characteristics then it seems this is a serious limitation?

    • Pymoladdict March 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      “Original” mice are definitely dead by now. Unless somebody stored the material, it would be very hard to figure out what was up with the mice the retracted work was done with – was it the right strain, was it infected/treated with something, were the experiments affected in some way that has nothing to do with the mice (as in Photoshop)?

  • March 16, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Actually guys, “rederivation” doesn’t mean that you re-make a mouse mutant from scratch, or that you make new “cell lines”, as in the post. You simply put fertilized oocytes from the knockout line into SPF pseudopregnant females so that they develop pathogen-free. It’s a way to bring dirty mouse lines into clean facilities. There’s more to this than they are saying.

    • Pymoladdict March 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      I don’t think that they had to redisrupt gck, but in this case I figure they had to re-check the genotype, expression profiles, etc. not just throw oocytes from the frost into a mouse and try to repeat experiments. If it is done right, this is a sizeable chunk of work.

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