A retracted Cell paper reappears elsewhere, sans author who didn’t sign retraction notice
One of the things we try to do here at Retraction Watch is keep tabs on retracted work that appears again the literature. We did that twice in one day last year, once with a paper about chimps that was retracted from Biology Letters and ended up in the Journal of Human Evolution, and then again with a PLOS ONE paper on on “longevity genes” that had been retracted from Science.
Today, we have another case. In September 2010, we reported that a Cell paper, “VMA21 deficiency causes an autophagic myopathy by compromising V-ATPase activity and lysosomal acidification,” was being retracted:
Our paper reported the identification of mutations in the gene VMA21 in patients with X-linked myopathy with excessive autophagy (XMEA) and characterized the molecular mechanisms underlying the disease phenotype. Many of the figure panels in the paper summarize data from multiple experiments. We have now detected a number of errors in these panels. Although we stand by the validity of our conclusions, we believe that the most responsible course of action is to retract our paper. We are preparing an expanded version of our work for future submission. We deeply regret this circumstance and apologize to the community.
One of the original authors, Dr. Aubourg, could not be reached regarding this Retraction.
That paper has found a new home, in Acta Neuropathologica, with all of the same authors except Pauline Aubourg. Here’s the new abstract:
X-linked Myopathy with Excessive Autophagy (XMEA) is a childhood onset disease characterized by progressive vacuolation and atrophy of skeletal muscle. We show that XMEA is caused by hypomorphic alleles of the VMA21 gene, that VMA21 is the diverged human ortholog of the yeast Vma21p protein, and that like Vma21p, VMA21 is an essential assembly chaperone of the vacuolar ATPase (V-ATPase), the principal mammalian proton pump complex. Decreased VMA21 raises lysosomal pH which reduces lysosomal degradative ability and blocks autophagy. This reduces cellular free amino acids which leads to downregulation of the mTORC1 pathway, and consequent increased macroautophagy resulting in proliferation of large and ineffective autolysosomes that engulf sections of cytoplasm, merge, and vacuolate the cell. Our results uncover a novel mechanism of disease, namely macroautophagic overcompensation leading to cell vacuolation and tissue atrophy.
And here’s the retracted one, very similar:
X-linked myopathy with excessive autophagy (XMEA) is a childhood-onset disease characterized by progressive vacuolation and atrophy of skeletal muscle. We show that XMEA is caused by hypomorphic alleles of the VMA21 gene, that VMA21 is the diverged human ortholog of the yeast Vma21p protein, and that like Vma21p it is an essential assembly chaperone of the V-ATPase, the principal mammalian proton pump complex. Decreased VMA21 raises lysosomal pH, which reduces lysosomal degradative ability and blocks autophagy. This reduces cellular free amino acids, which upregulates the mTOR pathway and mTOR-dependent macroautophagy, resulting in proliferation of large and ineffective autolysosomes that engulf sections of cytoplasm, merge together, and vacuolate the cell. Our results uncover macroautophagic overcompensation leading to cell vacuolation and tissue atrophy as a mechanism of disease.
The original paper has been cited 35 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, with 17 of those citations coming after the retraction. The new paper does not mention the retraction.
Update, 3:30 p.m. Eastern, 2/13/13: Corresponding author Berge Minassian tells us there are no significant differences between the new and retracted versions of the paper, and that they were not able to find Aubourg. We also asked whether he and his colleagues had considered mentioning in the new paper that the Cell version had been retracted.
No. That actually did not occur to me. Of course the editor of Acta and the reviewers of the paper at Acta were fully aware.
Update, 11:30 p.m. Eastern, 2/14/13: Minassian emailed to clarify that he meant that among the experiments presented again in the new paper, there were no significant differences with what was in the Cell paper. He said he did not realize were were asking about the paper as a whole, and notes that there are in fact also new experiments in the Acta Neuropathologica version.