MIT lab retracts Cell synapse tagging paper for falsification or fabrication
Alice Ting, winner of an NIH Directors Pioneer Award and named one of Technology Review’s “Innovators Under 35,” published the paper, “Imaging Activity-Dependent Regulation of Neurexin-Neuroligin Interactions Using trans-Synaptic Enzymatic Biotinylation,” in Cell in 2010 along with Amar Thyagarajan.
The notice is refreshingly detailed given the circumstances:
This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).
This article has been retracted at the request of the Author.
This paper introduced a new methodology, BLINC, for detecting the trans-synaptic binding of neurexin and neuroligin proteins, and applied BLINC to study the interaction dynamics of these proteins in neurons. Since this publication, my laboratory has found that BLINC cannot be reproduced in neurons using the constructs and protocols described in this paper. After I brought forward concerns, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted an independent investigation. Communicating the findings of that investigation in a letter to Cell, Dr. Claude Canizares, Vice President for Research and Associate Provost, stated that: “MIT found that the first author, Dr. Thyagarajan, falsified or fabricated figures in this publication. MIT’s investigation also found that Dr. Thyagarajan was solely responsible for the scientific misconduct that resulted in the falsified or fabricated data.” I therefore wish to retract this publication. My laboratory has subsequently found that, with modified constructs and protocols, BLINC can be used to detect trans neurexin-neuroligin interactions in neurons. We will report this in a future publication. I deeply apologize to the scientific community for any loss of time or resources caused by this publication.
The first author, Amar Thyagarajan, has declined to sign this retraction notice.
The paper has been cited 17 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. When it was originally published, Autism Speaks, which funded Thyagarajan’s postdoc, heralded it:
The ability to observe the active development of synapses will undoubtedly factor into future discoveries, paying dividends for some time to come.
MIT called it “a better way to see molecules at work in living brain cells.”
Thyagarajan is listed as a technology specialist at Clark + Elbing, a patent law firm in Boston. We’ve tried reaching him for comment, and will update with anything we learn.
Update, 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 2/15/13: Thyagarajan sent the following comment:
I was not contacted by Cell about their decision to retract the paper. I want to be clear that the retraction was done over my objection.
I stand by the data that was published and the methodology that I developed. I and others have reproduced this method over four years.
The findings against me were the result of a deeply flawed and sloppy investigation that ignored evidence that someone had tampered with and deleted my data, after the publication of the paper, and made it look as if I had falsified data.
I am greatly disappointed that Cell issued the retraction without contacting me and giving me an opportunity to explain the facts and my side of the story.
The matter is now at ORI. I expect to have a full and fair opportunity to be heard before impartial fact-finders and am confident that my innocence will be established.
Update, 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 2/16/13: Thyagarajan tells us he has resigned his position at Clark + Ebling.
Hat tip: Christophe Leterrier