Georgia State researcher has two papers retracted, eight flagged. He’s not happy about it.

The Journal of Biological Chemistry has retracted two papers by a Georgia State University researcher, as well as flagged eight more with expressions of concern, a move the scientist called “unfair and unjustified.”

Ming-Hui Zou, the common author on all ten papers — as well as on two more that have been corrected by the same journal — is, according to Georgia State,

an internationally recognized researcher in molecular and translational medicine and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Molecular Medicine and associate vice president for research at Georgia State University…

Zou was at the University of Oklahoma when the papers in question were published. He moved to Georgia State in 2015.

Here’s the retraction notice for “Reactive nitrogen species is required for the activation of the AMP-activated protein kinase by statin in vivo,” published in 2008 Zou as the last author: 

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The LKB1 immunoblot from Fig. 1Dwas reused in Fig. 7D. The AMPK immunoblot from Fig. 2A was reused in Fig. 3A. Figs. 3C and 5 (A and B) contained splices. The authors state that the duplications of the blots occurred during the assembly of the paper. The undeclared splicings in Fig. 5 (Aand B) were between the same immunoblots. The authors offered to published amended figures based upon those data and, alternatively, offered to repeat the experiments. However, the Journal declined both offers, a decision with which the authors respectfully disagree. Further, the results of this paper are confirmed by the results of complementary experiments presented in the manuscript, and the principal conclusion was further confirmed in publications from other laboratories (Ma, L. et al.(2012) PLoS One 7, e46055; Rossoni, L. V. et al. (2011) Clin. Sci. (Lond.) 121, 449–458; Dong, Q. et al. (2011) Int. J. Cardiol. 153, 311–316; and Chen, Z. et al. (2009) Circ. Res.104, 496–505). The authors state that any errors in the construction of figures in the paper do not alter the scientific conclusions of the work, and they stand by the conclusions of the paper.

The paper has been cited 74 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

The other retraction notice is for “Activation of protein phosphatase 2A by palmitate inhibits AMP-activated protein kinase,” a 2007 paper that has been cited 197 times and on which Zou was also last author:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The Journal raised questions regarding Figs. 1A, 4C, 5A, and 8 (A and C). Twelve years after the publication, the authors were able to locate some, but not all, of the original data and were able to locate some repeated experiments performed at the time of the original work, which the authors state support the conclusions of the paper. The authors state that the results of this paper are confirmed by the results of complementary experiments presented in the manuscript, and the principal observations of this paper were further confirmed in the publications of other laboratories (Bharath, L. P. et al. (2015) Diabetes 64, 3914–3926; Joseph, B. K. et al. (2015) J. Biol. Chem. 290, 10588–10598; and Wang, T. et al. (2010) PLoS One 5, e13096). The authors stand by the conclusions of the paper.

Zou told Retraction Watch:

We did make some errors in these two papers, which we think we should allow to correct. But JBC insisted to retract them. I had to convince my co-authors to withdraw them.

The expressions of concern for the eight papers, which all share Zou as a co-author, all read as follows:

The publisher of the Journal of Biological Chemistry is issuing an Expression of Concern to inform readers that credible concerns have been raised regarding some of the data and conclusions in the article listed above. The Journal of Biological Chemistry will provide additional information as it becomes available.

Together, the papers now subject to an expression of concern have been cited nearly 800 times. 

‘Very disappointed in their decision’

Ming-Hui Zou

Zou doesn’t know what prompted the review of his papers, and the JBC declined to comment, citing confidentiality. 

Zou said the journal contacted him in February of this year to ask for the original data for the eight papers now subjected to an expression of concern. Zou and his colleagues provided the data for seven of the papers by mid-May, but have not been able to do so for the other paper because “the institution where the works were done requests their legal approval for us to access our research data possibly stored in their servers.”

As legal approval is a long process, the editors kindly extend[ed] their deadline for us to provide original data for that paper. With this deadline agreed, we kindly requested the JBC editors to evaluate the original data we had provided for 7 papers and to make their decisions individually. The editors refused to do so. 

Instead, Zou said, the journal published expressions of concern for all eight papers, with which he and his colleagues respectfully but “strongly disagree.” Zou and his co-authors are “confident in these papers,” and found the JBC’s image analysis “extremely unreliable and misleading, largely because the figures we had generated for these papers were made by using PowerPoint in combination with multiple format conversions.”

Zou said he and his colleagues are “very disappointed about their decision,” which he called “unfair and unjustified,” saying that retrieving data from studies dating back to 2003 is “a daunting task for anyone.”

I wish JBC had requested all original data prior to the papers being accepted. The standard to keep original data keeping in JBC is 6 years after the publication.

Still, Zou acknowledged that some of the papers may require corrections.

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23 thoughts on “Georgia State researcher has two papers retracted, eight flagged. He’s not happy about it.”

  1. J Mol Endocrinol. 2015 Feb;54(1):25-37. doi: 10.1530/JME-14-0213. Epub 2014 Nov 7.
    Hypochlorous acid via peroxynitrite activates protein kinase Cθ and insulin resistance in adipocytes.
    Zhou J1, Wang Q1, Ding Y1, Zou MH2.
    Author information
    1
    Section of Molecular MedicineBSEB 306A, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73104, USA.
    2
    Section of Molecular MedicineBSEB 306A, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73104, USA.

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/03C5D8109BAC3F08C65DA0DD2915B4

      1. Reply to Rod Cook says:
        July 8, 2019 at 9:29 pm
        “What is the difference between 1 and 2?”

        2
        Section of Molecular MedicineBSEB 306A, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73104, USA ming-hui-zou@ouhsc.edu.

        To show who was corresponding author. 1 does not have any email addresses.

  2. Circulation. 2007 Oct 2;116(14):1585-95. Epub 2007 Sep 17.
    Reactive nitrogen species induced by hyperglycemia suppresses Akt signaling and triggers apoptosis by upregulating phosphatase PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome 10) in an LKB1-dependent manner.
    Song P1, Wu Y, Xu J, Xie Z, Dong Y, Zhang M, Zou MH.
    Author information
    1
    Section of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Department of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, Oklahoma City, OK 73104, USA.

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/C1EB980ADE1AB59B954020AE417B7D

  3. Diabetes. 2014 Dec;63(12):4172-85. doi: 10.2337/db14-0026. Epub 2014 Jul 14.
    7 comments on PubPeer (by: Lycodon Semicarinatus, Megalopyge Thanathos, Collybia Johnstonii, Qilong Wang)

    Myeloperoxidase deletion prevents high-fat diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance.
    Wang Q1, Xie Z1, Zhang W1, Zhou J1, Wu Y1, Zhang M1, Zhu H1, Zou MH2.
    Author information
    1
    Section of Molecular Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK.
    2
    Section of Molecular Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK.

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/D9A98B2D3D1573CF1FDDF434228CBD

  4. Eleven (No. That’s not a typo) R01s. All papers retracted/corrected or under expressions of concerns have multiple sources of Federal funding. Will NIH investigate?

      1. Let me put it this way. If I were that “productive”, I would be sure to showcase my papers on any grant application I submit. Any reviewer would be highly impressed.

  5. PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31056. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031056. Epub 2012 Feb 17.
    Activation of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) by nitrated lipids in endothelial cells.
    Wu Y1, Dong Y, Song P, Zou MH.
    Author information
    1
    Section of Molecular Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States of America.

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/18A689E1C776217943CFE6709AB74E

  6. Diabetes. 2013 Jul;62(7):2347-58. doi: 10.2337/db12-1229. Epub 2013 Feb 8.
    Liver kinase b1 is required for white adipose tissue growth and differentiation.
    Zhang W1, Wang Q, Song P, Zou MH.
    Author information
    1
    Section of Molecule Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA.

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/9E8840D392A2B0074E57F2731152ED#5

    and

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/9E8840D392A2B0074E57F2731152ED#6

  7. Surreptitious splicing is not an assembly error. You have to put the images together, and use something like a gamma smoothing tool to conceal the edges. It’s not something which happens by itself.

  8. J Biol Chem. 2014 Jan 17;289(3):1639-48. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.500934. Epub 2013 Nov 27.
    Liver kinase B1 expression promotes phosphatase activity and abrogation of receptor tyrosine kinase phosphorylation in human cancer cells.
    Okon IS1, Coughlan KA, Zou MH.

    2019 correction. http://www.jbc.org/content/294/33/12555.short

    In the published article, both GAPDH and β-actin were used as a housekeeping loading control for Fig. 2, D and E, but the immunoblots labeled as β-actin in Fig. 2, D and E, were mislabeled as GAPDH. Additionally, the β-actin controls for Fig. 2, D and E, were inadvertently switched. These errors do not affect the results or conclusions of this article. The authors apologize for the errors. Six years after publication, the original film for the SHP-2 immunoblot shown in Fig. 5D is no longer retrievable, but an identical set of SHP-2 data with different exposure times was located. Upon request by the Journal, the SHP-2 immunoblot was replaced.

  9. It certainly seems clear that an investigation into research misconduct MUST be initiated. But which institution conducts it? Ot maybe both…

    Retraction Watch has had stories regarding the various ways that investigations can be undertaken. It seems to me that, in the case of Christian Kreipke, he was investigated separately by his university and his Veteran’s Affairs employers. There was another case, I believe it was in San Francisco, in which the university and VA employers investigated jointly.

    It will be interesting to see how this shakes out, particularly in light of the enormous amount of federal funds potentially involved with all the questioned data.

  10. Third retraction for Ming-Hui Zou.
    Previous Expression of Concern, now retracted.

    J Biol Chem. 2004 Oct 15;279(42):43940-51. Epub 2004 Jul 19.
    Activation of the AMP-activated protein kinase by the anti-diabetic drug metformin in vivo. Role of mitochondrial reactive nitrogen species.
    Zou MH1, Kirkpatrick SS, Davis BJ, Nelson JS, Wiles WG 4th, Schlattner U, Neumann D, Brownlee M, Freeman MB, Goldman MH.
    Author information
    1
    Vascular Research Laboratory, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tennessee, Knoxville 37920, USA. mzou@mc.utmck.edu

    2019 retraction.
    http://www.jbc.org/content/294/36/13525

    This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The Journal raised questions that the AMPK immunoblot in Fig. 3C was reused in Fig. 4A as ACC, lanes 1 and 4 of the AMPK-P immunoblot in Fig. 4A were duplicated, and lanes 3 and 4 of the AMPK-P immunoblot in Fig. 4F were reused in Fig. 5A as ACC-P. Fifteen years after publication, the original data for these figures were not available for evaluation. The authors were able to provide to the Journal data from repeat experiments for Fig. 4A performed at the time of the original work, which they state confirm the results. The authors also provided the journal evidence that the duplications of Figs. 3C, 4F, and 5A occurred due to errors in the figure preparation. The authors offered to publish substitute figures based on the repeated experiments and corrected figures, alternatively, offered to repeat the experiments. However, the Journal declined both offers, a decision with which the authors respectfully disagree. Further, the authors state that the results of this article are confirmed by the results of complementary experiments presented in the article, and the principal conclusion was further confirmed in publications from other laboratories (Quintero, M. et al. (2006) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103, 5379–5384; Guilherme, L. et al. (2006) Diabetes Care 29, 1083–1089). The article, with confirmatory data supporting the results, can be obtained by contacting the authors. The authors stand by the experimental data and the conclusions of the article.

  11. 4th and 5th retractions for Ming-Hui Zou.

    Withdrawal: Thromboxane A2 receptor activates a Rho-associated kinase/LKB1/PTEN pathway to attenuate endothelium insulin signaling.
    Ping Song, Miao Zhang, Shaungxi Wang, Jian Xu, Hyoung Chul Choi, and Ming-Hui Zou
    J. Biol. Chem. 2019 294: 13830. doi:10.1074/jbc.W119.010660

    Withdrawal: Protein kinase Cζ-dependent LKB1 serine 428 phosphorylation increases LKB1 nucleus export and apoptosis in endothelial cells.
    Ping Song, Zhonglin Xie, Yong Wu, Yunzhou Dong, and Ming-Hui Zou
    J. Biol. Chem. 2019 294: 13831. doi:10.1074/jbc.W119.010661

  12. Georgia State University,
    Center for Molecular and Translational Medicine:

    Ming-Hui Zou, Director
    Zhonglin Xie, Associate Professor
    Ping Song, Associate Professor
    Imoh Okon, Research Assistant Professor
    Chunying Li, Associate Professor
    Xiaoxu Zheng, Research Assistant Professor
    Shaojin You, Research Associate Professor
    Zhixue Liu, Research Assistant Professor
    Ye Ding, Research Assistant Professor
    Shengnan Wu, Research Assistant Professor
    Hongyu Qiu, Professor

    Postdocs and students:
    Junqing An, graduate student
    Zhaohua Cai
    Sean Carr, graduate student
    Yuelin Chao
    Xiaoqing Guan
    Young-min Han
    Haingo Hantelys
    Yuning Hou
    Pratima Kumari, graduate student
    Juan Li
    Jing Mu, graduate student
    Yu Qiu
    SiChong Ren
    Shaligram Sharma, graduate student
    Venkata Sure
    Pooneh Tavakoley, graduate student
    Ramprasath Tharmarajan
    Onyanchi Ugbabe, graduate student
    Cheng Wang
    Huan Wang
    Jazmine Workman, graduate student
    Shengnan Wu
    Yang Wu
    Yin Wu
    Chenghui Yan
    Hongmin Yao, graduate student
    Chang-jiang Yu
    Fujie Zhao
    Qiang Zhao
    Cindy Zhou, lab manager

    1. Takes a lot of grants to support this Empire. One has to wonder how much of the retracted work and work currently under suspicion formed the basis of these grants? Any answers to this question, NIH?

    2. I am not in this lab, please remove my name. I was in Dr. Chunying Li lab and left it last June (2019). I didn’t publish or join any publication in these labs.

    3. Sorry, but why are a vast majority of members Chinese (its not racist!). Is there an inquiry into why Mr. Zou has recruited so many Chinese students and professors. Please dont give me Chinese are hardworkers nonsense, there are other non-Chinese who also are hardworkers. There is a case of racism in lab recruitment against Georgia State to say the least.

      1. I think what’s going on in these labs is “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

        Probably all of these people in the lab have some ambition to get out of being a post doc, and know that to do that you either need a big “hit” (Science, Nature, or Cell), or a steady stream of little ones (one per year in JBC, etc) to get a job. Zou knows that despite the fact that most projects don’t work (working meaning getting perfectly positive results that fit a beautiful narrative that can be published), that a lot of Chinese labor will “deliver” that anyway. He probably doesn’t bother to ask them how they get these results (“don’t ask”), and the labor is not going to tell him “dont tell”. He may know that a lot of Americans don’t like to behave this way.

        There are plenty of examples of this, for example Fazlul Sakar (Wayne State) and Shi/Zhang (U of Ky), advisors lording over a lot of oriental labor. Great for getting the advisors pay and prestige, great for getting the lab labor faculty positions in China, not so good about generating reproducible results.

  13. 6th retraction for Ming-Hui Zou.

    J Biol Chem. 2003 Sep 5;278(36):34003-10. Epub 2003 Jun 24.
    Activation of 5′-AMP-activated kinase is mediated through c-Src and phosphoinositide 3-kinase activity during hypoxia-reoxygenation of bovine aortic endothelial cells. Role of peroxynitrite.
    Zou MH1, Hou XY, Shi CM, Kirkpatick S, Liu F, Goldman MH, Cohen RA.
    Author information
    1
    Vascular Research Laboratory, Department of Surgery, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37920, USA.

    2019 retraction notice (previous expression of concern).
    http://www.jbc.org/content/294/47/18016

    This article has been withdrawn by the authors. Analysis performed by the Journal determined the following. The c-Src immunoblot in Fig. 1C was reused for AMPK in Fig. 3A. A portion of the c-Src immunoblot in Fig. 2D was reused in Fig. 2E for P70S6 kinase. The PDK1-P and AMPK-P immunoblots in Fig. 2E are the same. The second lane of the c-Src immunoblot on the left in Fig. 4D was reused in the first lane of the AMPK immunoblot on the right in the same figure panel. The authors state that the presentation of identical blots for PDK-1P and AMPK-P in Fig. 2E was an error. Because the original immunoblots cannot be recovered 16 years after publication, the authors cannot determine which immunoblot was used in error. However, the authors state in the legend to Fig. 2 that similar experiments performed at that time support the conclusions. For the other immunoblots in question, the withdrawing authors have carefully examined the immunoblots in question and disagree with the Journal. The authors offered to repeat the experiments in Fig. 2; however, the Journal declined the offer. Furthermore, the authors state that the results of this paper have been confirmed by the results of complementary experiments presented in the article, and that the principal observations of this article were further confirmed in publications from other laboratories (Quintero, M. et al. (2006) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103, 5379–5384; Emerling, B. M. et al. (2009) Free Radic. Biol. Med. 46, 1386–1391; Mackenzie, R. M. et al. (2013) Clin. Sci. (Lond.) 124, 403–411). The authors stand by the conclusions of the paper.

  14. 7th, 8th and 9th retractions for Ming-Hui Zou.

    Withdrawal: Nicotine-induced activation of AMP-activated protein kinase inhibits fatty acid synthase in 3T3L1 adipocytes: A role for oxidant stress.
    Zhibo An, Hong Wang, Ping Song, Miao Zhang, Xuemei Geng, and Ming-Hui Zou
    J. Biol. Chem. 2020 295: 667. doi:10.1074/jbc.W119.012217

    Withdrawal: Identification of nitric oxide as an endogenous activator of the AMP-activated protein kinase in vascular endothelial cells.
    Junhua Zhang, Zhonglin Xie, Yunzhou Dong, Shuangxi Wang, Chao Liu, and Ming-Hui Zou
    J. Biol. Chem. 2020 295: 670. doi:10.1074/jbc.W119.012218

    Withdrawal: Activation of AMP-activated protein kinase α1 alleviates endothelial cell apoptosis by increasing the expression of anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Survivin.
    Chao Liu, Bin Liang, Qilong Wang, Jiliang Wu, and Ming-Hui Zou
    J. Biol. Chem. 2020 295: 671. doi:10.1074/jbc.W119.012219

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