Two patch-clamping retractions in PNAS and the JCI after first author admits image manipulation

jci1212A group of cardiology researchers formerly of the University of Cologne has retracted two papers, after investigations into allegations of misconduct led to an admission of guilt by one of the lab’s junior members.

Here’s the first retraction, for “Connexin 43 acts as a cytoprotective mediator of signal transduction by stimulating mitochondrial KATP channels in mouse cardiomyocytes,” published last week in the Journal of Clinical Investigation:

All authors agree to retract the above article. After intense investigations, Dennis Rottlaender has admitted to committing intentional and systematic manipulation of the electrophysiological data in Figures 2, A and D, 3A, 4B, 5, A and D, and 6, A and D. Dr. Rottlaender acted alone, and the other authors were not previously aware of these manipulations.

All authors deeply regret the impact of this action.

The paper has been cited 43 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

The other paper, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and was already the subject of a correction in August, is retracted today:

Retraction for “Glycogen synthase kinase 3β transfers cytoprotective signaling through connexin 43 onto mitochondrial ATPsensitive K+ channels,” by Dennis Rottlaender, Kerstin Boengler, Martin Wolny, Astrid Schwaiger, Lukas J. Motloch, Michel Ovize, Rainer Schulz, Gerd Heusch, and Uta C. Hoppe, which appeared in issue 5, January 31, 2012, of Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (109: E242–E251; first published January 11, 2012; 10.1073/pnas.1107479109).

The authors wish to note the following: “In the course of intense investigations, the first author (D.R.) has admitted that he has committed intentional, systematic manipulation of the electrophysiological data collected in Cologne. Of note, the manipulation of data does not affect Western blots and infarct size data collected in Essen, Giessen, and Cologne, cell volume data collected in Essen, cell viability data collected in Salzburg and Cologne, or transgenic mice contributed from Essen and Lyon. Accordingly, we wish to retract the paper.”

Dennis Rottlaender
Kerstin Boengler
Martin Wolny
Astrid Schwaiger
Lukas J. Motloch
Michel Ovize
Rainer Schulz
Gerd Heusch
Uta C. Hoppe

The PNAS paper has been cited 4 times.

Hoppe was at the University of Cologne until last year, when she joined the “young, ambitious, private” Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg, Austria, as Director of the Department of Internal Medicine II, Cardiology, and Intensive Care Medicine, according to a recent profile in the European Heart Journal.

The site Science-Fraud had raised questions about a number of the Hoppe group’s papers in July. LaborJournal — in whose English sister publication we have a regular column — has a feature on the case, although it doesn’t seem to be available online at the moment.

The Salzburg Nachrichten newspaper reported last month that an unnamed junior doctor involved in a case involving Hoppe and mitochondrial research  is no longer employed by the hospital. The paper notes that the junior doctor is not an author on another questioned paper in Circulation. Hoppe told the paper that she had reviewed all of her research data from the past 10 years.

Update, 7 p.m. Eastern, 12/14/12: The LaborJournal story is now online.

17 thoughts on “Two patch-clamping retractions in PNAS and the JCI after first author admits image manipulation”

  1. We have ways to make you talk…
    What is nice about these two retraction notices is that they appear painfully straightforward. The authors could have just as well described these manipulations as honest clerical errors. Instead, they call a spade a spade – which is oddly refreshing.

    1. I find it strange that both of those retracted papers have the same authors. Not one of them noticed something amiss? Twice?

      1. There seems to have been a division of labor between the co-authors. Dennis Rottlaender was assigned a task and he decided to fake the results. The other co-authors must have taken his results at face value because trust makes life in general and research in particular simpler.

      2. It might be interesting to speculate, if one was of a nasty suspicious mind, if all the data still holds together once the patch clamping data falls over. After all usually all data collected is pointing at the same conclusion: the cell volume changes because a K+ channel opens etc etc.

        As it stands it appears that glycogen synthase kinase 3 phosphorylates connexin 43 – but for no particularly reason aside from the fact it is feeling bored and there is nothing on television. A peptide interacting with connexin 43 protects against infarct, but not by modulation of any ion channel activity. Could all be true. Actually for those who are interested it looks to me there is clear splicing on the western of Figure 2G – the 46 kDa panel. I doubt it is significant, doubtless they legitimately combined two westerns together

  2. Mission accomplished. Once again. The senior author secured a well-paying job due to results that no one ever actually confirmed but that were sexy enough sounding to get into “high-impact” journals. The junior author was stupid enough to admit to wrongdoing and conveniently takes all the blame. And best of all, even the data of Figure 8j, lane 53, collected in Essen, or was it Salzburg, but definitely not Cologne (lane 67) upper half, are absolutely correct.

    This accuracy does not affect the conclusions of the article. Really.

    And by the way. When will the taxpayers get their money back?

    This work was supported by Grants Ho 2146/3-3 and Schu 843/7-1, 7-2 from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and by grants from Köln Fortune and the Marga and Walter Boll-Stiftung (to U.C.H.).

  3. Not only did the senior author secure a well-paying job, she even only got to her current position with the help of the high-ranked publications which are now put into question…. and best of all there are similar manipulations documented in older publications where the above accused junior author was not involved (Ref: ). However, buisiness will go on as usual….

    1. This really looks horrific – there is absolutely no subtlety in the manner in which the fake figures have been generated. Hoppe does indeed have some explaining to do regarding her earlier papers that do not include Dennis Rottlaender as a co-author. Lightning usually does not strike twice unless you are a lightning rod.

      1. I’m afraid I don’t see what you mean….and yes i am an electrophysiologist.

        The figures just seem to show records of single channel activity…could have come from anywhere so what’s the point in faking them? There are no data which show ionic selectivity, no analysis of single channel kinetics.

        What I find amazing is that journals let them publish single channel i – v curves with no data points.

      2. OK…just had a look at science Fraud and see whet you mean. This is the most pointless and stupid bit of data fabrication I’ve ever seen. If you’re doing single channel recording you will have masses of traces like that…we have literally thousands on computers in this lab. If I wanted to be dishonest I could produce literally hundreds of figures, all with unique traces.

        When I had a quick look at the figures I didn’t spot this type of manipulation for the simple reason that I wasn’t looking for it.

  4. Certain PI’s seem to be cursed with repeatedly picking the wrong overachieving underlings. A hop(p)eless tragic example is the Bulfone-Paus family.

    Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that Bulfone is the overachiever and Paus the underling or vice versa.

  5. With the way senior PI fraud is protected by the scientific community, you would think science was the Catholic Church.

    1. Science is the Roman Catholic Catholic Church (There are other Catholic Churches which are non-Roman, which may have avoided the excesses in their childcare departments, although we can never be sure. Most people do use both terms interchangeably though).
      Where do you think all the priest-class people from a few centuries ago have now gone?
      The church cannot get priests now. They must be going somewhere else.
      Thank God it does not have childcare departments.

  6. A true example of what happens if struggle for impact points and career meets a working group without any scruples. A shame on those co-authors and senior-authors and all the rest to immolate only the first authors for collaborative fraud only to protect their own career and funds. It would not be suprisingly if at least one of the others papers (Michels…) will be retracted soon. I hopt that a committee now will check all the others publications of the involved authors. We will see what the “UCH Plag” will expose to us.

  7. There are a lot of Erratums in her publications, And she is now a member of evaluation Committee of the Austrian Society of Cardiology. . Meanwhile, new and new erratumes are coming out of her publications, with different authors. (PLoS One. 2008 Jan 30;3(1):e1511. Michels G, Er F, Khan IF, Endres-Becker J, Brandt MC, Gassanov N, Johns DC, Hoppe UC. Erratum in PLoS One. 2012;7(8): doi/10.1371/annotation/ff27c2a4-7732-4c32-88da-c412f1cced0c.

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