Lack of citation prompts correction in Nature journal
It’s not unusual to hear authors bemoan the fact that a new paper doesn’t cite their work that set the stage for a scientific advance. “The journal limited me to [a seemingly abitrary number of] references,” authors sometimes shrug, with or without apology. This week, however, we found a case of that which seems to have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
The authors of a September 2013 article in Nature Communications have issued a correction for the piece, which failed to cite the source of a key step in their experiment.
The article, “Val66Met polymorphism of BDNF alters prodomain structure to induce neuronal growth cone retraction,” came from the lab of William “Clay” Bracken, a biochemist at Weill Cornell Medical College. According to the abstract:
A common single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the human brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene results in a Val66Met substitution in the BDNF prodomain region. This SNP is associated with alterations in memory and with enhanced risk to develop depression and anxiety disorders in humans. Here we show that the isolated BDNF prodomain is detected in the hippocampus and that it can be secreted from neurons in an activity-dependent manner. Using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and circular dichroism, we find that the prodomain is intrinsically disordered, and the Val66Met substitution induces structural changes. Surprisingly, application of Met66 (but not Val66) BDNF prodomain induces acute growth cone retraction and a decrease in Rac activity in hippocampal neurons. Expression of p75NTR and differential engagement of the Met66 prodomain to the SorCS2 receptor are required for this effect. These results identify the Met66 prodomain as a new active ligand, which modulates neuronal morphology.
Trouble was, that finding wouldn’t have been possible without the previous work of another group. As the correction explains:
The glutaraldehyde fixation method used in this Article was previously published by Dieni et al. to detect BDNF propeptide, and should have been cited in the first paragraph of the Results section as follows: ‘However, glutaraldehyde fixation of proteins to the transfer membranes following sodium dodecyl sulphate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS–PAGE) according to Dieni et al., and the use of a BDNF prodomain-specific monoclonal antibody previously characterized10, facilitated its detection in the mouse hippocampus as a 15.5-kDa band (Fig. 1a), in agreement with the findings of Dieni et al.’.
The senior author on the Dieni paper was Yves-Alain Barde, of Cardiff University. Barde, who found the gene for BDNF, told us:
The matter in question came to my attention upon reading the publication in Nature Communications by Anastasia et al. … Not least because I have known 3 of the authors for a long time I corresponded with them to try and understand why they did not mention our previous, highly related work. In particular, the method we described in Dieni et al. 2012 (see Corrigendum) was key to the detection of the BDNF pro-peptide. This was a novel finding at the time which was then confirmed by Anastasia et al. We were also hoping that our results would help clarifying issues related to the processing of pro-BDNF which had been somewhat controversial. Not least because we spent quite some time working on this particular issue with 2 of my former colleagues, I then asked Nature Communications for a Corrigendum to be added to the Anastasia et al. publication…. The authors also sent us an apology for their unintended oversight which closed the incident as far as we are concerned.