Mol bio paper pulled by PLOS following investigation into figures

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 11.58.47 AMPLOS Biology has retracted a paper about the molecular details of β-catenin expression following an investigation by the first author’s institution in Italy.

The investigation, by the Istituto Nazionale per la Ricerca sul Cancro, found that there were multiple “figure anomalies.” According to the note:

An explanation of inadvertent error was given for some of the issues identified, while for two issues, a satisfactory explanation could not be provided.

First author Roberto Gherzi says none of his co-authors helped prepare the figures. The authors maintain that the conclusions are unaffected, but that assurance wasn’t enough for the journal. Here’s more from the lengthy retraction note, which provides some backstory on the “serious concerns” regarding the data:

The authors and editors retract this publication following an investigation into concerns around the data presented in the figures that were brought to the editors’ attention. The text below has been agreed by the editors and all authors, except for G. Corte (deceased).

There were concerns raised about all of the figures. Serious issues were detected in figures 6, 7 and supplementary figures S1 and S3, including duplicated gel bands within and between these figures.

An institutional inquiry has been undertaken at the IRCCS AOU San Martino-IST in Genova (formerly IST) where Dr Gherzi undertook this research and a number of the figure anomalies have been verified by the institutional committee. Dr Gherzi would like to note specifically that his co-authors (MT, MP, TR, GC, CM, CYC, KK, JSA & PB) were not involved in the preparation of these figures. An explanation of inadvertent error was given for some of the issues identified, while for two issues, a satisfactory explanation could not be provided. Dr Gherzi assumes full sole responsibility for the errors leading to these anomalies and apologizes.

The authors maintain that the conclusions of the published paper remain valid. However, the detected errors in the published figures undermine editorial confidence in the results presented in the study. Dr Gherzi would like to note that he has sent replicate autoradiograms for each experiment to the institutional inquiring committee. However, the editors, having seen this data, could not confidently validate what was provided. Given the serious concerns that remain about the validity of some of the published data presented in this paper, the authors and editors are issuing a retraction. All authors have agreed to the retraction of this paper (except GC, for reasons noted above) and deeply regret any inconvenience this publication has caused for others.

The 2006 paper, “The RNA-Binding Protein KSRP Promotes Decay of β-Catenin mRNA and Is Inactivated by PI3K-AKT Signaling,” has been cited 108 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Christine Ferguson, the editor in chief of PLOS Genetics, told us that it was a reader who alerted the journal to issues with figures in the paper.

Although this paper was published some time ago, we were contacted by a reader who queried some of the figures. We contacted the authors and conducted an inquiry taking time to ensure a fair and thorough consideration of all the available information. We followed the guidelines of the Committee on Publishing Ethics, of which PLOS Biology is a member. As a result of these investigations and after consultation with the authors we reached a mutually agreed upon decision to retract the manuscript. The retraction notice provides a summary of the reasons for the retraction.

We also found a correction for Gherzi and the last author on the retracted paper, Paola Briata, from 2012. This one’s for a PLOS Genetics paper, “Let-7b/c Enhance the Stability of a Tissue-Specific mRNA during Mammalian Organogenesis as Part of a Feedback Loop Involving KSRP.” The correction notes that some information regarding Gherzi’s funding source was missing from the paper:

The work of PB and RG was supported, in part, by funding from the Association for International Cancer Research (AICR grant No. 10-0527) and Limonte 2 (Regione Liguria, RNA Technology) to RG. These funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

We reached out to Gherzi and Briata, as well as the scientific director at the IRCCS AOU San Martino-IST for more information. We’ll update this post with anything else we learn.

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6 thoughts on “Mol bio paper pulled by PLOS following investigation into figures”

  1. Kudos to the PLoS Biology Editors for retracting this paper.

    It is always difficult to understand how authors can claim that no results are affected when images (which are the original source for the data on which those results are based) are swapped out after the problematic ones are identified.

    At a minimum, all statistics need to be recalculated if the source material from which original statistics were derived are changed. In such cases the paper might as well be retracted and then republished.

    There are too many instances of mere correction notices being issued in cases of obvious image manipulation, when the newly submitted images bear little resemblance to those originally submitted. Anyone reading a paper with a correction including new images, and a mere claim that no results changed, should assess the findings with several large grains of salt.

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