Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Journal retracts nine papers in one day by author under investigation at the Weizmann Institute

with 3 comments

On April 27, the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) retracted nine papers by a researcher based in Israel, including some dating back to 2000.

The reason: Image manipulation.

Michal Neeman, vice president of The Weizmann Institute of Science, told us that the researcher, Rony Seger, is under investigation following an allegation of misconduct affecting papers in multiple journals.

So far, we’ve found 11 retractions for papers by Seger, a molecular biologist. In the notices, the authors state they have “full confidence” in the findings, and in many instances have replicated the work.

According to Neeman:

An investigation of allegations for scientific misconduct pertaining to publications by Prof Seger in a number of journals, is under way and is expected to be concluded shortly.

We view with high priority the  integrity and accuracy of scientific literature and are committed to apply the appropriate measures.

Kaoru Sakabe, the Data Integrity Manager at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which publishes the JBC, told us:

A reader alerted us to possible issues. As is customary, we investigated the articles, the details of which may be found in the withdrawal notices.

Sakabe said no more withdrawals from JBC were forthcoming. She acknowledged that some of the papers are relatively old, and standards about image manipulation “have changed over time:”

The JBC endeavors to educate authors on current standards by producing materials, publishing columns, and offering workshops, to name a few examples. We also strongly encourage authors to retain unaltered data should any questions arise post-publication.

Seger is listed as either the first or last author on all the retracted papers. We’ve also discovered two previous retractions for papers he co-authored, bringing his total to 11.

The two previous retractions — issued in 2015 and 2012 — stem from an article duplication and the journal’s conclusion that the “results were not adequately proven,” respectively. Seger was the last author on both papers.

Let’s start with the JBC notices. Here’s the notice for the most recent paper, published online in July, 2011:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The gJNK panel from SK-OV-3 cells was reused in the gJNK panel from OVAR-3 cells in Fig. 1A. The tubulin panel in Fig. 2C was reused as the right g-p38alpha in Fig. 4B, and as the IP: gMLK3 and IB: gMLK3 panel in Fig. 6F. The left p473 AKT immunoblot and the right p308 immunoblot in Fig. 4D were inappropriately manipulated. Also, the right AKT immunoblot from Fig. 4D was reused as the right AKT immunoblot in supplemental Fig. S2B. Lanes 2 and 3 of the JNK immunoblot in Fig. 6D were reused in the JNK immunoblot from Fig. 6E. The MKK4 immunoblots in Fig. 7A were duplicated. Lanes 2 and 3 and lanes 5 and 6 of the upper JNK immunoblot in Fig 7C were reused in the lower left and right JNK immunoblots, respectively. The AKT immunoblot from SVOG-40 cells in supplemental Fig. S2A was reused in the AKT immunoblot from SVOG-40 cells in supplemental Fig. S2A was reused in the AKT immunoblot from SVOG-40 cells in supplemental Fig. S2B. The pc-Src panel from supplemental Fig. S3A and the right AKT immunoblot from supplemental Fig. S3C were manipulated inappropriately. The authors state that these errors do not affect the results or conclusions of the work.

Gq Protein-induced Apoptosis Is Mediated by AKT Kinase Inhibition That Leads to Protein Kinase C-induced c-Jun N-terminal Kinase Activation” has been cited 11 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.

Last year, a user on PubPeer raised concerns about a figure, to which one of the authors appears to have replied, calling the issue a “mistake.” However, PubPeer readers continued to discuss the paper, raising additional issues.

Here’s the notice for “Pigment Epithelium-derived Factor and Its Phosphomimetic Mutant Induce JNK-dependent Apoptosis and p38-mediated Migration Arrest:”

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The authors were recently made aware of issues in Figs. 2A and 7A as well as supplemental Fig. S4. The 4-h EEE-PEDF panel was reused in the 10 nm EEE-PEDF panel in Fig. 2A. In Fig. 7A, the control panel for BAEC cells was reused in the SP600125 panel from BAEC cells in the presence of bFGF and EEE-PEDF. Lane 7 of the pAKT panel from BAEC cells was inappropriately manipulated in supplemental Fig. S4. In the interest of maintaining accuracy in the published scientific literature, the authors wish to withdraw this article. However, the authors have full confidence in the findings and conclusions of this paper and have replicated the findings in subsequent work.

The 2011 paper has been cited 24 times. The paper has been under discussion on PubPeer since this January.

Here’s the notice for a 2008 paper:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The authors were recently made aware of issues in Figs. 1A and 2A. In Fig 1A, the actERK2 panel was manipulated inappropriately, and the GST panel was duplicated in Fig. 1C as the GST panel. In Fig 2A, the P-Elk panels for ERK2 were duplicated, and the right actERK2 panel for RSK was duplicated in the right actERK2 panel for cFOS. Because the original data are no longer available, in the interest of maintaining accuracy in the published scientific literature, the authors wish to withdraw this article. However, the authors have full confidence in the findings and conclusions of this paper and have replicated the findings in subsequent work.

Calcium-mediated Interactions Regulate the Subcellular Localization of Extracellular Signal-regulated Kinases” has been cited 25 times. The paper has been discussed on PubPeer since 2015; a comment signed with the names of the first and last authors (Dana Chuderland and Rony Seger) calls a flagged issue a “small technical problem,” which doesn’t affect the conclusions.

Here are the notices from some of the older papers, including a 2003 paper, “c-Src Is Activated by the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor in a Pathway That Mediates JNK and ERK Activation by Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone in COS7 Cells:”

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. Lanes 1-4 and lanes 7-10 of the G-JNK immunoblot in Fig. 1B were duplicated. In Fig 2A, the DP-JNK immunoblots on the left were inappropriately manipulated. In Fig 2A, the G-JNK immunoblots in the middle row were duplicated. In Fig 3B, lanes 2 and 7 of the phosphorylated MBP panel were duplicated. In Fig 5A, lane 1 of the Ras-GTP panel was inappropriately manipulated. Lanes 7 and 11 were duplicated. Because the original data are no longer available, in the interest of maintaining accuracy in the published scientific literature, the authors wish to withdraw this article. However, the authors have full confidence in the findings and conclusions of this paper.

The 2003 paper has been cited 63 times, and discussed on PubPeer starting last year.

Role of Dynamin, Src, and Ras in the Protein Kinase C-mediated Activation of ERK by Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone” was also retracted in April. Here is the notice:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The DP immunoblot in Fig. 1A, the DP immunoblot on the right in Fig. 2B, the DP immunoblot in Fig. 6, the DP immunoblot on the left in Fig. 7, and the DP immunoblot in Fig. 8 were inappropriately manipulated. Because the original data are no longer available, in the interest of maintaining accuracy in the published scientific literature, the authors wish to withdraw this article. However, the authors have full confidence in the findings and conclusions of this paper and have replicated the findings in subsequent work.

The 2000 paper has been cited 84 times.

Here’s the notice for “ERK1b, a 46-kDa ERK Isoform That Is Differentially Regulated by MEK:”

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. In Fig. 5, the band shown in lane 6 was pasted in. In Fig 7A, the ERK1b bands in the EJ cells and Rat1 cells lanes were duplicated. Because the original data are no longer available, in the interest of maintaining accuracy in the published scientific literature, the authors wish to withdraw this article. However, the authors have full confidence in the findings and conclusions of this paper.

The 2000 paper has been cited 57 times. Earlier this month, a PubPeer user flagged Figure 5, noting:

It would be difficult to find a more clearly pasted-in band in a purported Western Blot. Note the perfectly uniform background. Undoubtedly this is a textbook example.

Here’s the notice for a 2001 paper:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. In Fig 3, the CT, EGF panel contained duplicated features. Several panels shown in Fig 3 were assembled as a composite. The Elk1 and pERK immunoblots in Fig 4B were inappropriately manipulated. Because the original data are no longer available, in the interest of maintaining accuracy in the published scientific literature, the authors wish to withdraw this article. However, the authors have full confidence in the findings and conclusions of this paper.

Altered Regulation of ERK1b by MEK1 and PTP-SL and Modified Elk1 Phosphorylation by ERK1b Are Caused by Abrogation of the Regulatory C-terminal Sequence of ERKs” has been cited 32 times since it was published in 2001.

Here’s the notice for “Involvement of the Activation Loop of ERK in the Detachment from Cytosolic Anchoring:”

The article has been withdrawn by the authors. One cell from the 12-h, -TPA panel was duplicated in the 6-h, +TPA panel in Fig 1A. The 12-h, -TPA panel from Fig 1A was duplicated in the ERK2, +TPA panel from Fig 5. Also in Fig. 5, the cells shown in the ALC, -TPA panel were duplicated. The phosphorylated MBP panel from Fig. 4 was inappropriately manipulated. In Fig. 9, the ALC, -TPA and the 183A, +TPA panels were inappropriately manipulated. Because the original data are no longer available, in the interest of maintaining accuracy in the published scientific literature, the authors wish to withdraw this article. However, the authors have full confidence in the findings and conclusions of this paper.

The 2001 paper has been cited 63 times, and discussed on PubPeer.

Finally, here’s the notice for “The ERK Signaling Cascade Inhibits Gonadotropin-stimulated Steroidogenesis:”

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The authors were recently made aware of an issue in Fig. 4, in which the sequence of treatment groups in the blot of rFSHR-17 cells was reorganized by cut-and-paste to align treatment groups with the companion blot of rLHR-4 cells. This rearrangement was not acknowledged in the original figure legend. Because the original data generated 16 years ago are no longer available, in the interest of maintaining accuracy in the published scientific literature, the authors wish to withdraw this article. However, the authors have full confidence in the findings and conclusions of this paper and have replicated the findings in subsequent work. The authors apologize for not recording the manipulation noted in Fig 4.

The 2001 paper has been cited 187 times.

Seger hasn’t yet responded to our requests for comment.

We should note that this isn’t the most retractions JBC has issued for one author; last year, cancer biologist Jin Cheng asked the journal to retract 19 of his papers.

In 2015, Biochemical Pharmacology editors retracted the paper, “Regulation of p53: Intricate loops and delicate balances” (cited 80 times), on the grounds of duplication in another journal. The journals themselves both published the paper almost simultaneously as part of proceedings from the same conference, both edited by the same person. Seger is the last author; the first author is Moshe Oren, globally recognized as an expert in p53 protein biology, according to his biography on the Weizmann Institute’s website. When we first learned about the retraction in 2015, Oren told us that the duplicate submission was a mistake. He also said he learned about the duplication “probably towards the end of 2004.”

Calling the situation a “very embarrassing matter,” Oren said that the duplication arose over confusion during submission of a manuscript to accompany an oral presentation at a conference in Luxembourg; the two journals each published proceedings from the conference, both edited by the same person.

Finally, we found another retracted paper on which Seger is listed as last author. Issued in 2012, the notice from the International Journal of Oncology says:

An international independent review was conducted on the above article by the editor following a complaint. The expert reviewers agreed that the interpretation of the results was not correct. The article is retracted as the results were not adequately proven.

“Two initiation sites of early detection of colon cancer, revealed by localization of pERK1/2 in the nuclei or in aggregates at the perinuclear region of tumor cells” has been cited four times.

A paper with the same title and author list was published in 2013 in Acta Histochemica.

With reporting by Emily Willingham

Hat tip: Michal Dabba

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