A team led by David Latchman, a geneticist and administrator at University College London, has notched a mysterious retraction in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and has had 25 more papers questioned on PubPeer.
The JBC notice for “Antiapoptotic activity of the free caspase recruitment domain of procaspase-9: A novel endogenous rescue pathway in cell death” is as useless as they come, a regular occurrence for the journal:
This article has been withdrawn by the authors.
First author Anastasis Stephanou gave us some insight into what happened:
An error was pointed out to us that a single figure panel (Figure 1D) from our paper published in J. Biol. Chem. 2002 v277:13693‐9, had also partially appeared in another paper of ours. Although this data is not crucial for the overall conclusion of our manuscript, we regret that due to this error we had to withdraw this paper.
Finally, it is in our interest that we intent to resubmit our revised manuscript with an amended figure.
The paper has been cited 11 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
Retraction Watch has learned that the University College London received allegations of problems in December 2013, and convened a panel to investigate in the summer of 2014. We’ve contacted them to find out if this retraction is the first to result from that investigation (see update at the bottom of the post).
The PubPeer criticism of the retracted paper makes an accusation of image manipulation:
Two of Latchman’s papers, both in JBC, were corrected last week. Here’s the correction for “The Brn-3b transcription factor regulates the growth, behavior, and invasiveness of human neuroblastoma cells in vitro and in vivo”:
Fig. 4B included two magnifications of the same image of Brn-3b-overexpressing cells rather than four independent images as stated in the figure legend. The revised Fig. 4Bincludes four representative images. An additional LTR1 image (left panel) has also been included to distinguish from 3b-as-1 (right panel). These corrections do not affect the interpretation of the results or the conclusions of this work.
And here is the correction for “Brn-3a transcription factor blocks p53-mediated activation of proapoptotic target genes Noxa and Bax in vitro and in vivo to determine cell fate”:
The Western blot images that represent Bax and Noxa protein expression in Fig. 4A were reversed, with the Bax image labeled “Noxa” and vice versa. The images are labeled correctly in the revised Fig. 4A. This correction does not affect the interpretation of the results or the conclusions of this work.
We’ve contacted Latchman for comment, and will update with anything we learn.
Update, 1/23/15, 2:20 p.m. EST: A UCL spokesperson sent us the following statement:
UCL has received an anonymous allegation of potential research misconduct concerning UCL staff, which is currently under consideration under its Procedure for Investigating and Resolving Allegations of Misconduct in Academic Research.
The process is ongoing and it would be inappropriate for us to comment about named individuals at this stage.
Some errors have been identified in eight publications, and appropriate retractions have taken place. This should not be misinterpreted as an indication that individual authors have been either knowingly or deliberately involved in misconduct, because our processes are not yet complete. UCL is committed to maintaining the integrity and probity of academic research and we now intend to follow and complete our defined processes.