Four mysterious retractions in the JBC for a group whose PI recently passed away

The Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) has retracted four studies done in a Mount Sinai School of Medicine lab whose principal investigator died last month. The studies, by the late Maria Diverse-Pierluissi and colleagues, were as follows:

According to a Mount Sinai release, Diverse-Pierluissi died on May 7 of this year. The retractions are dated June 17, and all say the same thing:

This article has been retracted by the Publisher.

That opacity is unfortunately par for the course at the JBC, which has never responded meaningfully to our requests about any of the retractions we’ve found in its pages, including four by Silvia Bulfone-Paus. At most, we are told to contact the authors or institutions for more information. It would obviously be impossible to contact Diverse-Pierluissi, who is the corresponding author of all four papers. And the retracted studies are the last entries in Medline for at least three of the first authors, suggesting they have left science, and making them difficult to track down.

We tried contacting Mount Sinai and the journal earlier in the week, and will update with anything we hear back. [Please see important update at the end of this post.] Two weeks after the retractions were posted, neither the original papers, nor their Medline abstracts, mention the withdrawals, so there’s no way for scientists who come across the studies to know they should disregard the findings.

A Retraction Watch reader who works in the same field as Diverse-Pierluissi but wishes to remain anonymous notes:

There are clearly problems with these papers in terms of the traces and the Western blot images which doesn’t take much inspection to figure out. For example, the Fig 6e and f (especially the top trace) of Puckerin (2006) are the same as 5f in Tombler (2006). And the Western blot in Fig. 3A and 3C are the same in Richman (2004).

Update, 12:30 p.m. Eastern, 7/1/11: Mount Sinai has just sent us the following statement. Apparently, there was an investigation into these studies that found evidence of misconduct:

An internal Mount Sinai investigation found that Dr. Maria Diverse-Pierluissi committed research misconduct in four publications on which she was the senior author. Mount Sinai then requested that the Journal retract these four articles. No other co-authors were involved in any way in the research misconduct investigation and no negative implication about the co-authors should be drawn from these retractions. This matter has been referred to the Office for Research Integrity at NIH for their internal review.

10 thoughts on “Four mysterious retractions in the JBC for a group whose PI recently passed away”

  1. Mystery is the correct term. Ms D-P has passed away on May 7, two months ago, and four of her papers as principal investigator are being retracted. Three other co-authors have not been writers on any other papers since. Then we get a notice from Mt S that she alone committed “research misconduct.”
    One could spin a tale.

  2. Well yes, that’s partly my point. When I die, I’d like to think my work will live on, that my publications will still be read, that it will be acknowledged that I made a contribution. To a research scientist, what is happening here is worse than the actual dying.

  3. “…and no negative implication about the co-authors should be drawn from these retractions.”
    I don’t completely agree with that sentiment. Co-authors are responsible for carefully reading the manuscript and scrutinizing the data – more so than reviewers or readers. So if readers can detect problems with the manuscripts, then the co-authors share some responsibility for the problems with the manuscripts.

    1. elledr1ver, I do strongly agree with you, and it’s regrettable that there isn’t a more comprehensive system to bring those accountable to justice. And yes, Liz Wager, it really does disservice to those who may have made honest mistakes.

  4. If the journal is prepared to share the information about misconduct with this site, they definitely ought to include it in the retraction statement. It’s really unhelpful not to distinguish retractions due to misconduct from those due to honest errors as it might make authors reluctant to inform journals about honest errors.

  5. It was my sad misfortune to have been a post-doctoral research fellow in the Laboratory of Dr. Diverse-Pierluissi for a short period from September 2000 to May 2001, at which point I felt compelled to resign with a letter to Professor Iyengar detailing the personal and professional and financial reservations I had over the conduct of Dr. Diverse-Pierluissi.

    I noted that, having been asked to replicate the methodology of Dr. Diverse-Pierluissi, that only 1 in 10 of the dorsal root ganglion cells from her crude culture preparation expressed the much vaunted ‘voltage-dependent kinetic slowing’ phenomenon which had been featured in numerous Nature & Neuron publications, and statistically only 1 in 5 expressed a voltage-dependent inhibition. When her previous papers with Professor Dunlap were re-examined I noted that they typically reported 200-300 recordings with ‘kinetic slowing’, which means that as a post-doctoral researcher, Dr. Diverse-Pierlussi must have recorded from 2-3,000 cells a year. Given that her lab recorded only twice per week, and a good haul was 80 recordings per month, this would have taken over two years to achieve per paper, and that is without vacations, culture infections, recording issues, amplifier malfunctions, or absences for conferences etc…

    Thus I used the statistical argument, with the aside that she was either the hardest working post-doc in history, or else this had been a systematic fraud, that this was simply not possible. Given the confrontational and work shy nature which I experienced from Dr. Diverse, I have little doubt as to which of these two possibilities resonated with me. The cunning genius in her system was that the sheer volume of work required to attempt to reproduce and thus contradict a single published experimental figure was such that few would have the funded time or inclination to attempt to do so.

    My reservations were not limited to this aspect of her work alone. I noted with dismay that her then technician was preparing cultures of dorsal-root ganglion cells which exhibited dramatic asymmetries in plating density, so extreme in fact that they were clearly visible to the naked eye. These aberrations in plating density would not only have affected the behaviour of the cells, but also their synaptic connectivity, levels of neurotrophins and nutrients etc, and there was no attempt by the technician or laboratory to measure the protein or to normalise the amount of protein assayed in each lane of the western blot analysis. Their argument was that the established protein assay was affected by the reagents, but a simple measurement of UV absorbance would have sufficed. If you examine the timely Nature paper

    ‘Tyrosine-kinase-dependent recruitment of RGS12 to the N-type calcium channel.’ Schiff ML, Siderovski DP, Jordan JD, Brothers G, Snow B, De Vries L, Ortiz DF, Diversé-Pierluissi M.Nature. 2000 Dec 7;408(6813):723-7.

    which, please note appeared shortly after I am led to understand that her grant funding had been discontinued and her position was under review. You will note the remarkably clear patterns on the Western blot analysis with no shades of gray or ‘smudging’… Having worked with some leading laboratories in the use of the immunoprecipitation Western Blot technique, I realise how difficult clear and unambiguous data can be to obtain and I have no doubt that similar loading biases occured here.

    Moreover, I noted that, similar to the work of Smith PA, Rorsman P, Ashcroft FM., Nature. 1989 30;342(6249):550-3, that in the presence of TEA and other unphysiological recording agents, the baseline calcium currents, which were not, as she protested, solely composed of N-type currents, initially ran up and then down as the high ATP + GTP recording pipette solution proceeded to dialyse the neuron. Thus her measurements of the voltage-dependent calcium currents, before and after the application of Norepinephrine, were not based upon a stable baseline or constant channel properties purported to be those of N-type calcium channels. When I performed and averaged data from run-up and run-down analyses and attempted to present them at a laboratory meeting, which were held routinely on Monday public holidays, I was precluded from doing so.

    The deceit inherent in her nature was also evidenced in other theatres of behaviour, from lying about the receipt of expense claims against her account, to falsely presenting the industry and productivity of the individual members of her laboratory, and even sponsoring false allegations of sexual harrassment merely to weaken the position of those under her will.

    I am sure that it would be convenient to draw a neat line under the more recent research of Dr. Diverse-Pierlussi and to claim that the systematic research fraud described herein was of late onset. As sadly described here, I fear that the pattern of behaviour started far earlier. At least I may claim that I had the courage of my convictions and that my suspicions have now been confirmed. Alas such revelations also show how vulnerable the careers of young scientists are to rogue academics, but at least my written request not to have any work performed in Dr. Diverse-Pierlussi’s published with my name on appeared to have been a wise decision.

    I strongly recommend that the earlier research of Dr. Diverse-Pierlussi is re-examined diligently.

    Sincerely,

    Rhodri J. Walters PhD

  6. Strangely, Dr. Diverse-Pierlussi is still listed by CSR as an active member of the Molecular Neuropharmacology and Signaling Study Section (MNPS). Given the circumstances, one wonders what it takes to get removed as a study section member…

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