NIH/Harvard team loses aging study to manipulated data
Age has retracted a 2012 article by a group of scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston after an NIH inquiry turned up evidence of data manipulation in the work.
The article, “Aging decreases rate of docosahexaenoic acid synthesis-secretion from circulating unesterified α-linolenic acid by rat liver,” came from the lab of Stanley Rapoport, chief of the brain physiology and metabolism section of the National Institute on Aging.
As the abstract explained:
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3), an n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) found at high concentrations in brain and retina and critical to their function, can be obtained from fish products or be synthesized from circulating α-linolenic acid (α-LNA, 18:3n-3) mainly in the liver. With aging, liver synthetic enzymes are reported reduced or unchanged in the rat. To test whether liver synthesis-secretion of DHA from α-LNA changes with age, we measured whole-body DHA conversion coefficients and rates in unanesthetized adult male Fischer-344 rats aged 10, 20, or 30 months, fed an eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3)- and DHA-containing diet. Unesterified [U- (13) C]α-LNA bound to albumin was infused intravenously for 2 h, while [(13) C]-esterified n-3 PUFAs were measured in arterial plasma, as were unlabeled unesterified and esterified PUFA concentrations. Plasma unesterified n-3 PUFA concentrations declined with age, but esterified n-3 PUFA concentrations did not change significantly. Calculated conversion coefficients were not changed significantly with age, whereas synthesis-secretion rates (product of conversion coefficient and unesterified plasma α-LNA concentration) of esterified DHA and n-3 DPA were reduced. Turnovers of esterified n-3 PUFAs in plasma decreased with age, whereas half-lives increased. The results suggest that hepatic capacity to synthesize DHA and other n-3 PUFAs from circulating α-LNA is maintained with age in the rat, but that reduced plasma α-LNA availability reduces net synthesis-secretion. As unesterified plasma DHA is the form that is incorporated preferentially into brain phospholipid, its reduced synthesis may be deleterious to brain function in aged rats.
But here’s the notice:
This article has been retracted by the authors as they were unable to reproduce some of the data and therefore consider them unreliable.
To the editor of Age:
The NIH found that Dr. Fei Gao engaged in research misconduct by fabricating and/or falsifying data in Figures 1-7 and Table 2 in “Aging decreases rate of docosahexaenoic acid synthesissecretion from circulating unesterified α-linolenic acid by rat liver. Gao F, Taha AY, Ma K, Chang L, Kiesewetter D, Rapoport SI. Age (Dordr). 2012 Mar 3,” and therefore I request a full retraction of this paper. Please note, none of the other authors were implicated in any way.
Stanley I. Rapoport
The paper has only been cited twice, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
We’re guessing that because NIH pays the salaries of most of the co-authors on the study, including Rapoport, the Office of Research Integrity has been, or will be, involved in this case. We found a dozen articles on which Gao and Rapoport share a byline, although the Age article is the only retraction so far. Gao’s Harvard email bounced. We’ve sought comment from Rapoport and will update this post when we learn more.
This is the second retraction in a week involving Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Hat tip: Rolf Degen
Like Retraction Watch? Consider supporting our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, and sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post.