Raw files help fix 2003 figure by heart researcher accused of fraud


A researcher accused of misconduct by an anonymous Japanese blogger has corrected a 2003 paper in Circulation Research, after providing a university investigation with the original source files.

Allegations of fraud have dogged Shokei Kim-Mitsuyama for years, and even caused him to step down from his position as editor in chief at another journal. However, Kim-Mitsuyama and his colleagues call the latest correction a “mistake,” which didn’t affect any of the paper’s conclusions.

We’ve unearthed a total of five publications co-authored by Kim-Mitsuyama that have earned corrections, the latest of which cites an investigation by the university:

The authors of the Circulation Research article by Izumiya et al (Apoptosis Signal-Regulating Kinase 1 Plays a Pivotal Role in Angiotensin II–Induced Cardiac Hypertrophy and Remodeling. Circ Res. 2003;93:9 874–883. doi: 10.1161/01.RES.0000100665.67510.F5) have requested a correction to address concerns raised on an anonymous Japanese Doctor’s blog.

Based upon these allegations, the authors’ institution, the Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kumamoto University, investigated this issue. During this investigation, the authors provided all original source files for the figure in question, along with additional corroborative data, and the institution recommended publication of a corrected Figure 4.

The corrected Figure is provided below. In this experiment, the authors prepared 26 total transverse heart sections (WT=6, ASK1-/-=6, WT+AngII=7, ASK1-/-+AngII=7) on November 21, 2002. After checking the original source files, the authors noticed that the panels shown in the original Figure 4A were incorrectly selected during the preparation of the artwork. The panel showing ASK1-/- mouse was a duplicate of that showing WT mouse (original “WT 2” file). Also, the “WT 1” file was used for the panel showing WT+Ang II, and the “WT AII 7 “ file was used for the panel showing ASK1-/- + Ang II.

The authors assert that measurements and calculations were not affected by this artwork-selection mistake, and therefore this mistake did not affect any of the conclusions of this manuscript.

The authors apologize for this error, and the error has been noted and corrected in the online version of the article, which is available at http://circres.ahajournals.org/content/93/9/874.abstract

The paper has been cited 148 times according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

It’s notable that the authors hung on to their raw data files for over a decade — we’ve seen many papers retracted after authors couldn’t supply original material to support their findings (such as this recent case, where the authors say they lost their data in a flood).

A spokesperson for the American Heart Association, which publishes the journal, said she didn’t know if the paper had contained signs of misconduct.

We do know that Kim-Mitsuyama has problems beyond this one paper. A 2013 editorial in Hypertension Research describes another investigation that lead to Kim-Mitsuyama resigning as editor in chief:

On 9 June, the Hypertension Research editorial office received an email questioning the possibility of data manipulation and misconduct in the article ‘Excess aldosterone under normal salt diet induces cardiac hypertrophy and infiltration via oxidative stress’ published in Hypertension Research, volume 28, number 5 (2005). Given the serious nature of these allegations, the Japanese Society of Hypertension and the Hypertension Research editorial board immediately started an investigation. Noting Dr Kim-Mitsuyama’s role as a corresponding author of the article we contacted Kumamoto University and Osaka City University to ask for their cooperation in examining this and other papers published by Dr Kim-Mitsuyama.

To ensure strict neutrality, the Japanese Society of Hypertension and the Hypertension Research editorial board concluded that Dr Kim- Mitsuyama should be suspended from the role of Editor-in-Chief during the investigation. However, Dr Kim-Mitsuyama proposed he step down from the post to avoid any negative impacts the investigation might have on the society and the journal. This was accepted by the society and Dr Kim-Mitsuyama tendered his resignation.

The investigation into the alleged figure manipulation is still underway, for which Dr Kim-Mitsuyama has promised to provide his full cooperation. Hypertension Research will await the report from the universities, assess all the facts of the situation and form a considered conclusion. At this point the journal will take appropriate editorial action.

We’ve contacted the journal to check on the status of that investigation; the paper mentioned in the editorial does not have a retraction or a correction.

We have found corrections for a few more of Kim-Mitsuyama’s articles. An erratum in Scientific Reports, published last October just four months after the paper, “ASK1 is involved in cognitive impairment caused by long-term high-fat diet feeding in mice,” explains:

The original version of this Article contained a typographical error in the spelling of the author Hidenori Ichijo which was incorrectly given as Hidenor Ichijo.

In addition, there were errors in Fig. 2(a), where the number of mice in the 12 and 23 month old ASK1-HF groups should read ‘12’ and ‘7’ respectively. And in Fig. 3(a), the horizontal statistical bar should span across the Wild-HF and ASK1-HF group for the 24 month old mice. The correct Figs 2(a) and 3(a) appear below as Figs 1 and 2 respectively.

That paper has been cited once, by the correction note.

And here’s a correction from 2013, for “Calcium Channel Blockers, More than Diuretics, Enhance Vascular Protective Effects of Angiotensin Receptor Blockers in Salt-Loaded Hypertensive Rats,” published in PLoS ONE:

Representative Western blot bands of tubulin in Figure 4 (A) and (B) were placed in wrong order during preparation of the artwork. Therefore, tubulin bands in Figure 4 (A) and (B) were placed in the correct order . The same membranes were consecutively reprobed with p-eNOS (Fig. 4 (A)), t-eNOS (Fig. 4 (B)), p-Akt (Fig. 4 (C)), t-Akt (Fig. 4 (D)), p-ERK (Fig. 5 (B)), t-ERK (Fig. 5 (B)), and tubulin. Therefore, Western blot bands of tubulin were the same among Figure 4 (A), (B), (C), and (D), and Figure 5 (B). There is no correction in Figure 4 (C) and (D), and Figure 5 (B). However, several Western blot bands were noncontiguous and spliced together but the lanes were run on the same gel at the same time. Therefore, a thin line was added in between the spliced lanes

That paper has been cited four times.

An older erratum, published in 2008 — two months after the paper, “Overexpression of TNNI3K, a cardiac-specific MAP kinase, promotes P19CL6-derived cardiac myogenesis and prevents myocardial infarction-induced injury” — notes a couple of missing references. That paper, published in American Journal of Physiology – Heart and Circulatory Physiology, has been cited 17 times.

The Japanese Society of Hypertension Guidelines for the Management of Hypertension (JSH 2009),” published in Hypertension Research, on which Kim-Mitsuyama is one of many co-authors, has a correction from 2009 for an incorrect machine number, and a correction from 2014 for the deletion of a few references. That paper has been cited 607 times, and is a highly cited paper.

We’ve reached out to Kim-Mitsuyama, and to the Dean of the Graduate School of Medical Sciences at Kumamoto University, for more information.

Hat tip: Kerry Grens

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