Journal flags cancer paper from Karolinska researchers

A journal has issued an expression of concern (EOC) for a 2011 cancer paper, while Karolinska Institutet investigates “concerns” about some of the data.

After the Journal of Cell Science (JCS) received a tip from a reader, it investigated, but was unable to resolve the concerns. So the journal asked KI–where all the authors work–to investigate further, and issued an EOC to alert readers that there may be an issue with the paper.

According to the notice, the questions center on data from Fig. 1A, but the notice does not specify the nature of the concerns. The 2011 paper received a correction in 2016, which cites inadvertent figure duplication.

Earlier this year, the paper’s last author Boris Zhivotovsky and second author Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg retracted a 2008 paper from Oncogene over potential image duplication. That retraction caught our attention because it was prompted by a 2016 correction to the paper, which had raised additional questions about potential duplication; ultimately, the authors retracted both the paper and its correction.

Here’s the expression of concern for the 2011 JCS paper:

This Expression of Concern relates to the article ‘Chromosomal breaks during mitotic catastrophe trigger γH2AX–ATM–p53-mediated apoptosis’ by Gabriela Imreh, Helin Vakifahmetoglu Norberg, Stefan Imreh and Boris Zhivotovsky. J. Cell Sci. (2011) 124, 2951-2963 (doi: 10.1242/jcs.081612). Concerns have been raised regarding some of the data in Fig. 1A of the above-named paper. Journal of Cell Science is publishing this note to make readers aware of this issue, and we will provide further information once the issue has been resolved. This course of action follows the advice set out by COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics), of which Journal of Cell Science is a member.

Chromosomal breaks during mitotic catastrophe trigger γH2AX–ATM–p53-mediated apoptosis” has been cited 32 times, including by the 2016 correction, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

The executive editor of JCS told us how the journal became aware of the potential problem and why it issued the EOC:

We were alerted to the concerns by a reader. Unfortunately, in discussions with the author, we were unable to resolve the concerns without referring the matter to the author’s institute, so we placed a Publisher’s Note on the paper until we have reached a resolution.

Pierre Lafolie, an associate professor of clinical pharmacology at KI, confirmed the investigation on behalf of the institution:

Karolinska Institutet are aware of this case.

It is under investigation.

We contacted the four authors, all of whom are based at KI, but did not hear back.  

Here’s the correction notice issued last year for the JCS paper:

In Fig. 4C, the blot representing pATM was inadvertently duplicated as representing G3PDH. The G3PDH western blot has been replaced with the correct image in the figure shown below. There are no changes to the figure legend, which is accurate. This error does not affect the conclusions of the study.

Zhivotovsky has received other corrections for image issues (1, 2, 3), as has his co-author Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg (1, 2).

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