UCLA probe ends in retraction for neuroscience post-doc

jneuroscoThe Journal of Neuroscience has retracted a 2011 paper by a group of UCLA researchers after the institution concluded that a post-doc at the institution had falsified data.

The article, “Epigenetic Enhancement of BDNF Signaling Rescues Synaptic Plasticity in Aging,” came from the lab of Cui-Wei “Tracy” Xie, a behavioral scientist. It has been cited 42 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Here’s the retraction notice:

The Journal of Neuroscience has received a report of an investigation by the University of California, Los Angeles that describes substantial data misrepresentation in the article “Epigenetic Enhancement of BDNF Signaling Rescues Synaptic Plasticity in Aging” by Yan Zeng, Miao Tan, Jun Kohyama, Marissa Sneddon, Joseph B. Watson, Yi E. Sun, and Cui-Wei Xie, which appeared on pages 17800–17810 of the December 7, 2011 issue. Because the results cannot be considered reliable, the editors of The Journal are retracting the paper.

Xie, who declined to identify the post-doc, citing privacy rules, told us that the journal initiated the investigation in March 2012.

Per the request of the Journal of Neuroscience, UCLA investigated the allegation of data misrepresentation regarding the article mentioned.  They found several issues with the representative images included in the figures. In one case, a Golgi staining images was used twice in a multi-panel figure for different conditions.   In another case, Western blot images were used twice in different figures. The postdoc prepared the figures admitted that mistakes were made but said they were unintentional.

As mistakes were made, the integrity of paper and the trust to our work is compromised.  I agree with the retraction and regret that I did not detect the problems with the figures before the submission.

Xie added that:

The problems discovered were representative figure images provided by a single postdoc author.  Other co-authors and I myself were not involved in these mistakes.  The investigation committee found that there was no evidence to support the allegations against me personally.

Xie provided us a copy of a letter from UCLA exonerating her.

She also said the

mistakes discovered have been limited to representative images in the figures.  We have examined the original data sets and found no evidence of manipulation.  

Finally, Xie said the work

 was the result of a new project in the lab.  My lab has not published any follow-up work since we became aware of the problems.  I do not expect retraction of other articles published by my lab.

Hat tip: Madeleine Johnson

5 thoughts on “UCLA probe ends in retraction for neuroscience post-doc”

  1. “Xie, who declined to identify the post-doc, citing privacy rules”

    I can’t believe there are any privacy rules that require the concealment of the identity of a person found to have committed misconduct. If there are any such rules, those rules are unethical.

    I also don’t like the “limited to representative images in the figures” explanation. If it’s true that all the data is OK, why were duplicate images used to represent different things in the same paper?

        1. i’m bad at google, apparently. also, why not just provide letters of exoneration for the rest of the members of your lab as well, except, you know, the one who wasn’t? she should stick up for her employees who didn’t do that much wrong, especially because she is the corresponding author, and she wrote the paper… and she must have barely looked at the figures, because it takes all of about 30 seconds to find the duplicate panel in figure 6A….

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