Nobel Prize winner Thomas Südhof retracts study

The retraction follows an editorial expression of concern that the journal applied to the paper in October, seven months after it was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Two red pencils form a letter X against a surf green background.
Data mismatch: A 2023 paper, led by Thomas Südhof, was retracted by the authors after they discovered “unresolvable differences” between the raw data and the published data file.
Photograph by Richard Drury

Neuroscientist Thomas Südhof, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, has retracted a 2023 study after he and his colleagues reanalyzed the raw data.

The paper, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was marked with an editorial expression of concern by the journal on 17 October 2023, as The Transmitter reported last year. The paper has been cited three times, according to Google Scholar.

The retracted paper analyzed excitatory synapse number and neurotransmitter release in mouse hippocampal neurons missing a presynaptic cell-adhesion molecule called neurexin-2. Südhof, professor of molecular and cellular physiology and neurosurgery at Stanford University, received the Nobel Prize for some of his previous work on neurexin proteins.

The authors retracted the study “because re-analysis of the original raw data for Figs. 2, 4 and 6 revealed that, although our analyses of the original data are supportive of the conclusions of the paper, unresolvable differences exist between these raw data and the published data source file that cannot be corrected by a simple erratum,” according to the 5 March retraction notice.

“In addition, the source data file contained copy-paste errors, and Fig. 1 included shifted data points that occurred during figure drafting,” the notice continues. The data were independently analyzed by Daniel Matus at Stanford University, a postdoctoral scholar in Südhof’s lab, according to the notice.

In response to an email request for comment, Südhof referred The Transmitter to his lab’s website. Last year, following The Transmitter’s reporting, Südhof created a page on his website to add further detail to his responses to comments on the online discussion forum PubPeer about this paper and others. The page inaccurately characterizes Spectrum, which became part of The Transmitter in November 2023, as one of the “accusatory blogs” that “provide criticism not only of the Südhof lab’s research, but also of the P.I.’s person and family and of people linked to the lab.”

The study’s first author, Pei-Yi Lin, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. Lin is a postdoctoral researcher in Südhof’s lab and is currently on leave, according to the lab website.

Included in the retraction is a link to the Stanford Digital Repository, where the authors have posted the raw data from the paper along with an accompanying abstract further stating that there are “innumerable errors” with the original data source file.

The retraction was first noted on PubPeer in a post by a commenter using the pseudonym “Actinopolyspora biskrensis.” Other commenters on the forum previously raised data integrity concerns almost immediately after the study was published last year.

This is the second PNAS study by a Nobel Prize winner retracted in 2024. In February, molecular biologist Gregg Semenza retracted a 2012 paper because of data integrity concerns.

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