Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Researcher logs three retractions for image duplications — two of which with familiar co-authors

with one comment

A researcher in Brazil is taking responsibility for accidentally mixing up images in three papers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. 

The corresponding author on the three papers told us the mistake happened because the studies were conducted simultaneously, and relied on one computer.

There’s a side note to these retractions: The co-author list on two papers includes names that should be fairly well-known to our readers — Mario Saad, the researcher who unsuccessfully sued the American Diabetes Association to stop retractions of his papers, and Rui Curi, a researcher whose legal threats assisted in the shutdown of Science-Fraud.org. This makes Saad’s ninth retraction.

According to the retraction notices, Lício Velloso  — who, like his co-authors, is based at the University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil — assembled all the figures. He told Retraction Watch that the authors initially wanted to correct the papers, adding:

At the time when the studies were concluded, the whole data was evaluated by external advisors and problems were not noticed. After the contact from the JBC editorial office, we retrieved all the original data and in fact we observed that some figures had been improperly assembled.

Velloso noted:

In our view the problems emerged because of unintentional [errors] during the storage and preparation of figures. Since all experiments were properly performed, we requested to the JBC editorial office to issue a correction. However, this option was not given.

Since the studies were conducted appropriately, and the problems lie only in the preparation of figures, the authors will attempt to publish revised versions in another journal, Velloso said.

We asked Velloso why the errors took place in three separate papers, and he said:

Although the publication dates range from 2009-2012, the studies were conducted almost simultaneously. At that time we prepared figures using CorelDraw and we had only one computer in the lab with CorelDraw installed. We suspect that files were unintentional mixed in this computer during the period when papers were being prepared.

Kaoru Sakabe, data integrity manager at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (which publishes JBC), referred us to Velloso and the retraction notices, saying:

The JBC investigates any credible allegation of image manipulation.

Here’s the first retraction notice, all of which were issued on November 22:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The senior author (L. A. V.) takes all responsibility for the withdrawal. Due to unintentional errors during the preparation of the figures, the same images were used to represent different experimental conditions. In Fig. 2A, the TNFR2 immunoblot from spleen was used in Fig. 3B as actin, left panel, and in Fig. 3E as actin, left panel. The TNFR2 immunoblot from thymus in Fig. 2D was used in Fig. 3C as actin, right panel, and in Fig. 6C from Calegari, V. C., Torsoni, A. S., Vanzela, E. C., Araújo, E. P., Morari, J., Zoppi, C. C., Sbragia, L.,. Boschero, A. C., and Velloso, L. A. (2011) Inflammation of the hypothalamus leads to defective pancreatic islet function. J. Biol. Chem. 286, 12870–12880. In Fig. 2A, the IP:TNFR2/IB:TRAF2 immunoblot from thymus was used in Fig. 6C from Calegari, V. C., Torsoni, A. S., Vanzela, E. C., Araújo, E. P., Morari, J., Zoppi, C. C., Sbragia, L.,. Boschero, A. C., and Velloso, L. A. (2011) Inflammation of the hypothalamus leads to defective pancreatic islet function. J. Biol. Chem. 286, 12870–12880. It should be noted that the first author (T. R.), despite performing most of the experiments, was not involved in the final assembly of the figures. Additionally, the remaining coauthors excluding L. A. V. were not involved in the preparation of these figures. The authors state that all of the experiments were properly conducted, and the results have been reproduced in their own laboratory. The authors apologize for the problems these errors may have caused.

This 2009 paper, “Deletion of Tumor Necrosis Factor- Receptor 1 (TNFR1) Protects against Diet-induced Obesity by Means of Increased Thermogenesis,” has been cited 82 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters. This papers lists Rui Curi as the penultimate author.  

Next, here’s the retraction notice for “Inflammation of the Hypothalamus Leads to Defective Pancreatic Islet Function:”

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The senior author (L. A. V.) takes all responsibility for the withdrawal. Some images were unintentionally used to represent different experimental conditions. The actin immunoblot from Fig. 2G was used in Fig. 3D as actin, in Fig. 3E as actin, and in Fig. 7B (Ref. 1). The actin immunoblot from Fig. 3B was used in Fig. 4C as actin. The actin immunoblot from Fig. 3F was used in Fig. 3F from Ref. 2 and in Figs. 5B and 6A from Ref. 1. The pAkt immunoblot from Fig. 4C was used as PGC1 in Fig. 5A and in Fig. 2B from Ref. 1. The actin immunoblot from Fig. 5D was used in Fig. 2B of Ref. 1. The actin immunoblot from Fig. 6A was used in Fig. 3B of Ref. 3. The Akt immunoblot from Fig. 6B was used in Fig. 6D as actin. The UCP immunoblot in Fig. 6C was used in Fig. 2A from Ref. 3. Additionally from Fig. 6C, the actin immunoblot was used in Figs. 2D and 3C of Ref. 3. It should be noted that the first author (V. C. C.), despite performing most of the experiments, was not involved in the final assembly of the figures. In addition, the remaining coauthors excluding L. A. V. were not involved in the preparation of these figures. The authors reaffirm that all experiments were performed appropriately, and the errors do not affect the interpretation of the results or the conclusions of this work. However, the authors accept that the preparation of the figures fell below the standards of publication by unintentionally using the wrong blots to represent the data. The authors apologize to the scientific community and will seek to publish a corrected manuscript version corroborating the findings of this work.

References

  1. Denis, R. G., Arruda, A. P., Romanatto, T., Milanski, M., Coope, A., Solon, C., Razolli, D. S., and Velloso, L. A. (2010) TNF- transiently induces endoplasmic reticulum stress and an incomplete unfolded protein response in the hypothalamus. 170, 1035-1044
  2. Coope, A., Milanski, M., Arruda, A. P., Ignacio-Souza, L. M., Saad, M. J., Anhê, G. F., and Velloso, L. A. (2012) Chaperone insufficiency links TLR4 protein signaling to endoplasmic reticulum stress. J. Biol. Chem. 287, 15580-1558
  3.  Romanatto, T., Roman, E. A., Arruda, A. P., Denis, R. G., Solon, C., Milanski, M., Moraes, J. C., Bonfleur, M. L., Degasperi, G. R., Picardi, P. K., Hirabara, S., Boschero, A. C., Curi, R., and Velloso, L. A. (2009) Deletion of tumor necrosis factor- receptor 1 (TNFR1) protects against diet-induced obesity by means of increased thermogenesis. J. Biol. Chem. 284, 36213-36222

This 2011 paper has accumulated 38 citations.

Finally, here’s the retraction notice for “Chaperone Insufficiency Links TLR4 Protein Signaling to Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress:”

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The senior author (L. A. V.) takes full responsibility for the withdrawal. Some images were unintentionally used to represent different experimental conditions. The XBP-1s immunoblot from Fig. 3C was used in Fig. 6C as ATF6. The actin immunoblot from Fig. 3F was used in Fig. 3F of Calegari, V. C., Torsoni, A. S., Vanzela, E. C., Araújo, E. P., Morari, J., Zoppi, C. C., Sbragia, L.,. Boschero, A. C., and Velloso, L. A. (2011) Inflammation of the hypothalamus leads to defective pancreatic islet function. J. Biol. Chem. 286, 12870–12880 and in Figs. 5B and 6A of Denis, R. G., Arruda, A. P., Romanatto, T., Milanski, M., Coope, A., Solon, C., Razolli, D. S., and Velloso, L. A. (2010) TNF- transiently induces endoplasmic reticulum stress and an incomplete unfolded protein response in the hypothalamus. 170, 1035–1044. Lane 1 of the TLR4 immunoblot from control cells in Fig. 5C was used in lane 1 of the XBP1s immunoblot from Fig. 5J. The actin immunoblot from Fig. 5F was used in Fig. 5J of Denis, R. G., Arruda, A. P., Romanatto, T., Milanski, M., Coope, A., Solon, C., Razolli, D. S., and Velloso, L. A. (2010) TNF-  transiently induces endoplasmic reticulum stress and an incomplete unfolded protein response in the hypothalamus. 170, 1035–1044. The actin immunoblot from Fig. 6J was flipped horizontally and used as actin in Fig. 6K. In this case, Fig. 6, J and K, was probed from the same membrane. It should be noted that the first author (A. C.), despite performing all of the experiments, was not involved in the final assembly of the figures. Additionally, the remaining co-authors excluding L. A. V. were not involved in the preparation of these figures. The authors reaffirm that all experiments were performed appropriately, and the errors do not affect the interpretation of the results or the conclusions of the study. However, the authors accept that the preparation of the figures fell below the standards of publication. The authors apologize to the scientific community and will seek to publish a corrected manuscript version corroborating the findings of this work.

The 2012 paper — which is co-authored by Mario Saad — has been cited 13 times. 

In reference to the allegation that sparked these retractions, Velloso noted:

The allegation contained no comments on the reproducibility of the studies or on methodological issues. Thus, to my knowledge, the overall results of the papers are not being contested. All experiments were properly performed. They are part of the PhD Thesis or Post-Doctoral projects of former students at my lab.

Velloso was a co-author on three recent expressions of concern issued by the Journal of Physiology, one of which also lists Saad as a co-author.

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