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.”
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This article has been withdrawn by the authors.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This article has been withdrawn by the authors.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’
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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