This weekend, Carlo Croce had some reprieve from the misconduct accusations that have followed him for years (recently described in a lengthy article in the New York Times) and that have prompted his university to re-open an investigation. On Sunday, he received a prestigious award from the American Association for Cancer Research, honoring his work.
But the moment may have been short-lived. Today, Croce received two expressions of concern (EOCs) from PNAS for two well-cited papers published over a decade ago, on which Croce — chair of the Department of Cancer Biology and Genetics at The Ohio State University (OSU) — is last author. The two EOCs cite concerns over duplicated bands. What’s more, another journal recently decided to retract one of his papers, citing figures that didn’t represent the results of the experiments.
PNAS chose to issue EOCs, rather than retractions or corrections, because the authors didn’t agree that the bands were duplicated, according to executive editor Diane Sullenberger. She explained how the journal learned of the issues with the two papers:
After the New York Times contacted us about the allegations of image manipulation, we obtained two independent reports that found probable duplication of bands. High-resolution originals were not available because the papers were from 2003 and 2005.
According to the notices, the authors no longer possess the original data.
Last month, Croce and his colleague Alfredo Fusco, a cancer researcher in Italy, withdrew a 2012 paper in Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) on which they are middle authors —the sixth retraction for Croce and tenth for Fusco, by our count. Both researchers are currently under investigation for scientific misconduct by their respective institutions.
The notice describes concerns with several figures, which the authors could not address — again, due to a lack of original data. According to Kaoru Sakabe, data integrity manager at American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which publishes JBC:
Three figures were at issue in this case. As is customary, we requested the original data for these figures. The authors were unable to provide the original data for Fig 1C, so they could not address our concerns. In addition, the other two figures, 2D and 6E, as it turns out, did not accurately represent the experimental conditions. Given the inaccuracies in 2D and 6E, plus the unanswered questions about 1C, the authors decided it would be best to withdraw the paper.
Here’s PNAS’s expression of concern for the 2003 paper, “Parkin, a gene implicated in autosomal recessive juvenile parkinsonism, is a candidate tumor suppressor gene on chromosome 6q25–q27,” signed by PNAS editor-in-chief Inder Verma:
The editors wish to note that Fig. 2a and 2b, β-actin panel, appears to have duplicated bands. The authors note that “because this issue was first raised more than 10 years after publication, the original data are not available to confirm whether an error was made in the figure construction.” However, the authors state that any error in figure construction does not affect their scientific conclusions.
Here’s the second, similarly worded, expression of concern notice for the 2005 article, “WWOX gene restoration prevents lung cancer growth in vitro and in vivo,” also signed by Verma:
The editors wish to note that Fig. 1B, β-actin panel, appears to have duplicated bands. The authors note that “because this issue was first raised more than 7 years after publication, the original data are not available to confirm whether an error was made in the figure construction.” However, the authors state that any error in figure construction does not affect their scientific conclusions. The authors have provided an image from a replicate experiment completed in 2014 which, the authors state, “confirms the results shown in Figure 1B. This confirmation supports the conclusions in this work.” The image for Fig. 1B and its legend appear below.
The 2003 and 2005 papers have been cited 151 and 100 times, respectively, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.
And here’s the retraction notice for “POZ-, AT-hook-, and Zinc Finger-containing Protein (PATZ) Interacts with Human Oncogene B Cell Lymphoma 6 (BCL6) and Is Required for Its Negative Autoregulation,” published in 2012 and cited 15 times (once by a previous correction notice):
This article has been withdrawn by the authors. Figs. 2D and 6E did not accurately represent experimental conditions. Additionally, the journal raised concerns with regards to Fig. 1C. The authors were not able to provide the original data for this figure. The authors state that these inaccuracies in figure representation did not affect any of the scientific conclusions of the paper.
Croce is fourth to last author and Fusco is third to last author on the study.
Here’s the 2014 correction notice for the paper, which describes issues with a figure not featured in the retraction:
Western blot images representing PATZ, BCL6, and tubulin in Fig. 6C did not accurately represent the experimental results. Different lanes were erroneously duplicated. Lane 3 of the PATZ panel was duplicated in lane 7; lane 4 of the PATZ panel was duplicated in lanes 5 and 6; lane 1 of the BCL6 panel was duplicated in lane 2; lane 4 of the tubulin panel was duplicated in lane 7; and lane 5 of the tubulin panel was duplicated in lane 6. The authors have provided an image from a replicate experiment. This correction does not affect the interpretation or conclusions of this work.
We contacted Croce and the corresponding authors on the JBC paper—Monica Fedele and Lorenzo Chiariotti, both affiliated with the University of Naples, where Fusco is also affiliated.
Hat tip for JBC retraction: David Sanders
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