Group retracts Nature Immunology paper for figure irregularities after posting a correction to Science

courtesy NPG

We’re following the case of a group that recently retracted a Nature Immunology paper for figure irregularities, soon after being forced to correct images in a Science paper for similar reasons.

The Nature Immunology paper, “The helminth product ES-62 protects against septic shock via Toll-like receptor 4–dependent autophagosomal degradation of the adaptor MyD88,” has been cited just twice since it appeared online in February 2011, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The retraction notice, which appeared online on July 19:

The authors wish to note the following. Irregularities have been identified in some of the figures in this paper. The conclusions drawn from these data, that ES-62 protects against the development of pathology in the sepsis models and results in the induction of autophagy in macrophages, cannot be made. As these conclusions constitute major components of the paper, we wish to retract this paper.

This wasn’t the only set of “irregularities” in images for the group recently. In November 2010, Science replaced two figures that were included in the Supplementary Online Material of a June 4, 2010 paper by the group, “SphK1 Regulates Proinflammatory Responses Associated with Endotoxin and Polymicrobial Sepsis.”

It’s a bit difficult to tell the difference between the new and old images (Figure 2 and Figure S5B), so we asked Science for some details. Executive editor Monica Bradford tells Retraction Watch:

A reader noted that something was wrong with Figure S5B.  We requested the original gels and it was determined that the figures that were originally published had been manipulated in Photoshop to make the figure more visually appealing.  Based on the gels that we received, we concluded that they confirmed the original results.  We asked the authors to provide new figures.

The Science paper has been cited 28 times.

The corresponding author of both papers, Alirio Melendez, told us by email early last week that he was on medical leave, with intermittent access to email, but would respond as soon as he could. He is currently at the University of Liverpool, having left positions recently at the University of Glasgow and the National University of Singapore.

Please see an update on this post, in which Science has issued an Expression of Concern.

21 thoughts on “Group retracts Nature Immunology paper for figure irregularities after posting a correction to Science”

  1. Figure S5B from the Science paper does not appear suspicious. It merely looks like the different panels were run with different % acrylamide and/or different apparatus. They then scaled the images to the same size for publication. Since the MW marker positions are clearly indicated, this does not seem to be a significant issue. The corrected image appears to be a rerun of the experiment this time using the same gels and apparatus.

  2. When you zoom in on Figure S5B, on the bands, doesn’t the pixilation pattern look fishy? It looks like a block had been transposed. I am uncertain if it’s a result of resizing or a manipulation.

    1. Well, this is very embarrassing. When I posted my comment about Figure S5B I confused the original with the revised versions. Looking closer, as marc suggested, I see that the original does indeed look highly manipulated. It’s really embarrassing to have to retract a comment to RetractionWatch.

  3. This is going to be worse than Potti case. Probably more than a dozen papers – if one follows this individual closely. Retraction watch may want to do this.

      1. Yes. You are right. It makes you wonder who reviewed it. I guess as a reviewer you are not always sent high-resolution pictures but some of these fraudulent figures could be seen at low res.

        The blots in his Nature Medicine 2007 paper should be featured on the Photoshop Disasters blog (a good read if you haven’t seen it). Overuse of the cloning tool and then a band pasted on the top (see link).

        The graphs we obviously have no way of knowing whether they are fraudulent, but given the levels of manipulation/deception in the figures…

  4. Dodgyblot – well you discovered it. Usually, in all retractions, what happens? co-authors escape if one person is doing all the misconduct.
    I appreciate Adam and Ivan’s effort to put this case up. Otherwise, it would not have been noticed as the Nature Immunology just highlighted “irregularities” no news about misconduct. Did Ivan contact Nature Immunology for clarification?

  5. unbelievable!! Retraction Watch should follow up on this I guess…this is a gold mine..Hope journals don’t keep quite to protect their status..

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