Neuroscientists retract Cell autism model paper for “improperly assembled” figures
The senior author on the paper — there were 22 altogether — is Paul Worley of Johns Hopkins. Here’s the notice for “Enhanced Polyubiquitination of Shank3 and NMDA Receptor in a Mouse Model of Autism:”
Our paper reported an analysis of a mouse genetic model that deletes the C terminus of Shank3 to mimic human mutations that cause autism spectrum disorder. Figure panels for several polyubiquitination assays were improperly assembled, leading to multiple repetitions of bands in western blots of the lysates. These errors did not affect the quantitative analysis of polyubiquitination because this analysis was performed as described and was not dependent on representative western blot images. In light of the figure preparation issues, we feel that the most responsible course of action is to retract the paper. We sincerely apologize to the scientific community for any misunderstanding that these errors may have caused.
The study has been cited 32 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, and was funded by the NIH along with a number of autism foundations.
It’s not clear how the authors became aware of the improper assembly, but a site called “Autism Researchers” posted allegations about falsification in the paper’s figures in May of last year.
We’ve contacted Worley for for more details, and will update with anything we learn.
Update, 11 a.m. 1/18/13: In response to questions about whether other papers would be affected, and whether the case had been referred to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI), Johns Hopkins Medicine sent us this statement:
We are aware that, at the request of the authors, the journal Cell on January 17, 2013, retracted the manuscript entitled, “Enhanced Polyubiquitination of Shank3 and NMDA Receptor in a Mouse Model of Autism.” The responsible conduct of all phases of research, including the accurate reporting of research data, is at the core of our mission, and we are committed to ensuring that all Johns Hopkins University research is conducted to the highest scientific and ethical standards. We can assure you that Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine takes the circumstances that led to the retraction extremely seriously.
Here’s the 2011 press release Hopkins sent out about the research.
Update, 12:40 p.m. 1/18/13: The ORI has been notified of the case, Hopkins tells us.