Author admits to manipulating more than a dozen images in 2013 paper

A former graduate student at the University of Hong Kong confessed to making “inappropriate modifications” to several figures in a 2013 paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC).

According to the retraction notice, the authors identified issues in 13 images while reviewing the data; the paper’s first author, Yingying Lu, copped to manipulating the figures. Even though “these modifications did not change the results or interpretations of this work,” the authors requested the paper be retracted.

The paper’s corresponding author, Jainbo Yue, previously based at the University of Hong Kong and now at the City University of Hong Kong, had nothing to add to the retraction notice, and told us that a “third person” is repeating the key experiments.

Here’s the retraction notice for “Two pore channel 2 (TPC2) inhibits autophagosomal-lysosomal fusion by alkalinizing lysosomal pH,” published in July:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. After reviewing the data, the authors found that the first author of the paper made inappropriate modifications to the background of the following figures: Figs. 2C, 2D, 3B, 3E, 4A, 4E, 5E, 6D, 8A, 8C, and supplemental Figs. S1A, S2B, and S5B. The first author admits to making the modifications. The modifications include covering cells not expressing RFP-GFP-LC3, GFP-LC3, or RFP-Lamp, incomplete cells on the edge of the images, or contaminant staining dots outside of the cells in images (Figs. 2C, 2D, 3B, 3E, 4A, 4E, 6D, 8A, 8C, and supplemental Figs. S1A and S2B). Additionally, other modifications include covering dirty dots above the bands in the Western blots (Fig. 5E and supplemental Fig. S5B) and inadvertently inserting a box in LC3 blot of Fig. 4E. Although these modifications did not change the results or interpretations of this work, these figures were not prepared according to the publication policy of the journal. Therefore, the authors wish to withdraw this article and sincerely apologize for these mistakes.

The paper has been 53 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Yue was one of Lu’s two PhD advisors. We could not find current contact details for Lu, and asked Yue if he had contact information for Lu. Yue told us that Lu did not wish to release her contact information as she is still “beleaguered” by the retraction.  

A spokesperson for the University of Hong Kong explained that both Lu and Yue had left the University of Hong Kong in 2014, so the university “cannot work on” the paper. The paper was published in 2013, when both were based at the University of Hong Kong.

The spokesperson added:

We had not been informed about the retraction.

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