Out of the running: Dodgy blots prompt retraction of paper on marathoning and cell death
A group of exercise researchers at the University of Rome Tor Vergata has lost their May 2010 paper in BMC Physiology on the effects of marathon running on blood cells, because of figure irregularities.
The article, “The effect of marathon on mRNA expression of anti-apoptotic and pro-apoptotic proteins and sirtuins family in male recreational long-distance runners,” purported to find that marathoning arrested apoptosis, or programmed cell death. It has been cited 13 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
According to this press release:
Gabriella Marfe from the University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’ led a team of researchers who studied ten amateur athletes after a 42km run. Marfe said, “Apoptosis is a normal physiological function dependent on a variety of signals, many of which can be modulated by strenuous exercise. Here, we’ve shown for the first time that exercise modulates expression of the sirtuin family of proteins, which may be key regulators of training.”
Or, as the Telegraph put it:
Strenuous exercise can temporarily halt a natural process which causes cells to die, they found.
This effect could help the body to maintain bone and heart muscle, they believe.
Here’s what the study reported, in more detail:
A large body of evidence shows that a single bout of strenuous exercise induces oxidative stress in circulating human lymphocytes leading to lipid peroxidation, DNA damage, mitochondrial perturbations, and protein oxidation.
In our research, we investigated the effect of physical load on the extent of apoptosis in primary cells derived from blood samples of sixteen healthy amateur runners after marathon (a.m.).
Blood samples were collected from ten healthy amateur runners peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were isolated from whole blood and bcl-2, bax, heat shock protein (HSP)70, Cu-Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD), Mn-SOD, inducible nitric oxide synthase (i-NOS), SIRT1, SIRT3 and SIRT4 (Sirtuins) RNA levels were determined by Northern Blot analysis. Strenuous physical load significantly increased HSP70, HSP32, Mn-SOD, Cu-Zn SOD, iNOS, GADD45, bcl-2, forkhead box O (FOXO3A) and SIRT1 expression after the marathon, while decreasing bax, SIRT3 and SIRT4 expression (P < 0.0001).
These data suggest that the physiological load imposed in amateur runners during marathon attenuates the extent of apoptosis and may interfere with sirtuin expression.
Alas, the authors had a stumble. Per the retraction notice:
The authors have retracted the article . Following publication of the article irregularities within the Northern blot figures were brought to the attention of the editors and subsequently confirmed by an investigation by the University of Rome Tor Vergata. We apologize to all affected parties.
We’ve asked the authors for more details, and will update with anything we learn.