The Office of Research Integrity has sanctioned a former researcher in the lab of Linda Buck, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for falsifying data in two papers written with the support of grants from the National Institutes of Health.
The researcher, Zou Zhihua, worked with Buck as a post-doc at Harvard and then at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, Buck’s current home. After leaving there in 2005, he spent three years at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and now appears to be a faculty member at Jilin University in China.
According to the report:
Based on the reports of investigations conducted by Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) and additional analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Dr. Zhihua Zou, former Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Neurobiology, HMS, and former Staff Scientist, Division of Basic Sciences, FHCRC, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 DC001622 and R01 DC004842.
ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying data that were included in two (2) publications:
- Zou, Z., Horowitz, L.F., Montmayeur, J.P., Snapper, S., & Buck, L.B. “Genetic tracing reveals a stereotyped sensory map in the olfactory cortex.” Nature 414:173-179, 2001 (hereafter referred to as “Nature 2001″).
- Zou, Z., Li, F., & Buck, L.B. “Odor maps in the olfactory cortex.” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102:7724-7729, 2005 (hereafter referred to as “PNAS 2005″).
As a result of the investigations, both publications have been retracted.
Specifically, ORI finds that Respondent:
- falsified Figures 2k, 2l, 3a, 3f, 3h, and 3i in Nature 2001 and Figure 5C(b) in PNAS 2005 by manipulating the images to alter the number and location of positively stained cells in the olfactory bulb and olfactory cortex of mice.
Zou agreed to a three-year settlement in which he must be supervised while doing any research with Public Health Service money.
We covered this case in September 2010.
Here’s the notice for the PNAS paper:
The undersigned authors wish to note the following: “This article described patterns of c-Fos labeling in anterior piriform cortex following exposure of mice to odorants. In efforts to replicate this work, we have observed c-Fos in sparsely distributed neurons, as reported, but we have found no evidence for the reported finding that odorants induce related patterns of c-Fos labeling in the two hemispheres and in different individuals. Inconsistencies have also been found between several images shown in the paper and the original data. Because of these discrepancies, the undersigned authors are retracting the article. We sincerely apologize for any confusion it has caused.”
Here’s the notice for the Nature article:
This Article described patterns of labelling observed in olfactory cortex when a transneuronal tracer was co-expressed with single odorant receptor genes in the mouse olfactory epithelium. During efforts to replicate and extend this work, we have been unable to reproduce the reported findings. Moreover, we have found inconsistencies between some of the figures and data published in the paper and the original data. We have therefore lost confidence in the reported conclusions. We regret any adverse consequences that may have resulted from the paper’s publication.
Interestingly, the ORI report makes no mention of a 2006 Science paper by Zou and Buck that she also retracted because her group could not replicate the findings:
In the Report “Combinatorial effects of odorant mixes in olfactory cortex” (1), we described subcellular patterns of Arc (arg3.1) mRNA expression in anterior piriform cortex neurons after mice had been exposed to odorants. We reported that some cortical neurons express Arc in response to a mix of two odorants but not either odorant alone. My laboratory has been unable to reproduce this finding. I am therefore retracting the Report. I sincerely apologize for any confusion that its publication may have caused. Z.Z. declined to sign this Retraction.