Research integrity

The potential problems of Eliezer Masliah

"the confusion occurred while utilizing prior panels as example " - emeritus professor Eliezer Masliah

Please look at this neuroscience paper, it is merely four years old. And, no, it is not from China or India. It’s from the US National Institutes of Health, the NIH.

This case, like several others presented in this article, was spotted by Cheshire.

Getaw Worku Hassen , Leo Kesner , Alfred Stracher , Abraham Shulman , Edward Rockenstein , Michael Mante , Anthony Adame , Cassia Overk , Robert A. Rissman , Eliezer Masliah Effects of Novel Calpain Inhibitors in Transgenic Animal Model of Parkinson’s disease/dementia with Lewy bodies Scientific Reports (2018) doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-35729-1 

The corresponding author Eliezer Masliah is an NIH researcher, director of the Division of Neuroscience at NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA), and also professor of neurosciences and director of the Autopsy Service at UCSD-Medical Center. A bigwig of US science, his research spanning the continent, one lab in Bethesda, Maryland, and another in San Diego, California. NIH celebrates him as “A prolific author with approximately 800 original research articles, 70 book chapters and dozens of patents“. Articles like the above and below, 25 of them flagged on PubPeer now.

Masliah is aware of the evidence, as he wrote to me in an email:

Thanks for your message I just saw this; I’m limited as the lab closed years ago, but I take this very seriously and I will make every effort to identify the source of the potential problem and respond.

It was the same reply Masliah posted on PubPeer under this article, a collaboration with Germans from the University Erlangen-Nürnberg:

Georgia Minakaki , Stefanie Menges , Agnes Kittel , Evangelia Emmanouilidou , Iris Schaeffner , Katalin Barkovits , Anna Bergmann , Edward Rockenstein , Anthony Adame , Franz Marxreiter , Brit Mollenhauer , Douglas Galasko , Edit Irén Buzás , Ursula Schlötzer-Schrehardt , Katrin Marcus , Wei Xiang , Dieter Chichung Lie , Kostas Vekrellis , Eliezer Masliah , Jürgen Winkler , Jochen Klucken Autophagy inhibition promotes SNCA/alpha-synuclein release and transfer via extracellular vesicles with a hybrid autophagosome-exosome-like phenotype Autophagy (2018) doi: 10.1080/15548627.2017.1395992

The other paper, Valera et al 2017, was from Masliah’s lab and without any Germans on it

On 24 January 2023, Masliah reiterated in his email to me:

I’m working diligently on this situation; however, it will take time as the lab closed years ago and involves contacting third parties that performed some of the studies with whom I lost contact.

Well, actually these third parties are searching for him. Masliah’s collaborator, the Erlangen neurology professor Jürgen Winkler told me:

we will make every effort to resolve this first internally and then externally“.

Other Masliah’s collaborators are indeed difficult to reach, for example the Uppsala University researcher Sara Ekmark-Lewén, who remained silent when I contacted her about this:

Sahar Roshanbin , Agata Aniszewska , Astrid Gumucio , Eliezer Masliah, Anna Erlandsson , Joakim Bergström , Martin Ingelsson , Sara Ekmark-Lewén Age-related increase of alpha-synuclein oligomers is associated with motor disturbances in L61 transgenic mice Neurobiology of Aging (2021) doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2021.01.010

Dysdera arabisenen: “Would the authors please check if the same image were used twice in Fig 6?” Actually, it was reused with different brightness.

As for Masliah’s lab being closed: he is indeed listed as emeritus in UCSD, with last grant ending in 2021, but there is no mention about any retirement at NIA. To be fair, his last NIH grant dates to 2019. Still: if also that NIA lab also closed years ago, why is Masliah still publishing papers as corresponding author with the affiliation of “Laboratory of Neurogenetics, Molecular Neuropathology Section, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, 20892, USA“? Like this in September 2022:

Michiyo Iba , Ross A McDevitt , Changyoun Kim , Roshni Roy , Dimitra Sarantopoulou , Ella Tommer , Byron Siegars , Michelle Sallin , Somin Kwon , Jyoti Misra Sen , Ranjan Sen , Eliezer Masliah Aging exacerbates the brain inflammatory micro-environment contributing to α-synuclein pathology and functional deficits in a mouse model of DLB/PD Molecular Neurodegeneration (2022) doi: 10.1186/s13024-022-00564-6 

Masliah commented on PubPeer in December 2022 that it was “an error during the assembling and updating of the panels during the preparation of the final version of the figure following revisions” and announced a possible corrigendum.

And then Cheshire found this:

To me, Masliah avoided commenting on the new findings and his apparently active lab at NIA, only saying:

Regarding that manuscript the problem occurred while assembling the complex multipaneled figures and accidentally repeating a panel, we have communicated with the journal and submitted an erratum.

Masliah previously also announced a correction here, for this collaboration with Austrians:

Wolfgang Wrasidlo , Igor F Tsigelny , Diana L Price , Garima Dutta , Edward Rockenstein , Thomas C Schwarz , Karin Ledolter , Douglas Bonhaus , Amy Paulino , Simona Eleuteri , Åge A Skjevik , Valentina L Kouznetsova , Brian Spencer , Paula Desplats , Tania Gonzalez-Ruelas , Margarita Trejo-Morales , Cassia R Overk , Stefan Winter , Chunni Zhu , Marie-Francoise Chesselet , Dieter Meier, Herbert Moessler, Robert Konrat, Eliezer Masliah A de novo compound targeting α-synuclein improves deficits in models of Parkinson’s disease Brain (2016) doi: 10.1093/brain/aww238

Masliah announced on PubPeer in January 2023:

It is taking some time to search into this as the lab closed some years ago, it appears that the confusion occurred while utilizing prior panels as example and accidentally using for the manuscript a version that was not fully updated instead of the final version with the correct panel, we will submit an erratum, thanks

Did he really just admit that his lab is routinely “utilizing” random images to illustrate unrelated experimental treatments, after some modifications? So the only problem here is that this specific image was already published to illustrate something 2 years before?

Whatever. More image utilizing:

Let’s see how that elite neuroscience journal solves the “confusion”.

Also with the following collaborative paper flagged by Elisabeth Bik, Masliah quickly took responsibility and announced a correction. It is all his responsibility now, because the last author Stephen Heinemann, “one of the founders of 21st century neuroscience,” died in 2014.

Gustavo Dziewczapolski , Carolina M Glogowski , Eliezer Masliah , Stephen F Heinemann Deletion of the alpha 7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor gene improves cognitive deficits and synaptic pathology in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease Journal of Neuroscience (2009) doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.6159-08.2009

Masliah: “Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention, I will look into it to the extent that is possible as both laboratories where this research was conducted closed years ago.”

Some co-authors Masliah collaborated are much less reputable, and in such cases one can’t really be sure which lab faked which figure. Like, with the deceased institute director at San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Luigi Maiuri, and Andrea Ballabio, professor at the infamous Federico II University of Naples, the latter with over 20 papers on PubPeer flagged for data manipulation:

Alessandro Luciani , Valeria Rachela Villella , Speranza Esposito , Nicola Brunetti-Pierri , Diego Medina , Carmine Settembre , Manuela Gavina , Laura Pulze , Ida Giardino , Massimo Pettoello-Mantovani , Maria D’Apolito , Stefano Guido , Eliezer Masliah , Brian Spencer , Sonia Quaratino , Valeria Raia, Andrea Ballabio , Luigi Maiuri Defective CFTR induces aggresome formation and lung inflammation in cystic fibrosis through ROS-mediated autophagy inhibition Nature Cell Biology (2010) doi: 10.1038/ncb2090

Ballabio’s other coauthors include infamous Italian cheaters Maria Pia Cosma and even Alfredo Fusco. A small selection of Ballabio’s scientific achievements:

Alessandro Fraldi, Fabio Annunziata , Alessia Lombardi , Hermann-Josef Kaiser , Diego Luis Medina , Carmine Spampanato , Anthony Olind Fedele , Roman Polishchuk, Nicolina Cristina Sorrentino , Kai Simons, Andrea Ballabio Lysosomal fusion and SNARE function are impaired by cholesterol accumulation in lysosomal storage disorders The EMBO Journal (2010) doi: 10.1038/emboj.2010.237
Indeed, the paper was fixed in 2022 with an bizarre “partial retraction” Now you see why PubPeer moderates my comments.
Giovanna Maria Pierantoni , Alessandro Bulfone , Francesca Pentimalli , Monica Fedele , Rodolfo Iuliano , Massimo Santoro , Lorenzo Chiariotti , Andrea Ballabio , Alfredo Fusco The homeodomain-interacting protein kinase 2 gene is expressed late in embryogenesis and preferentially in retina, muscle, and neural tissues Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (2002) doi: 10.1006/bbrc.2001.6310 

Cell Death and Depravity

Is the journal Cell Death and Disease a disease itself, parasitised by Chinese paper mills? Can it be cured? Not with this team of doctors on editorial board.

Maiuri died in 2019, much lamented by his bereaved friends Mauro Piacentini and Guido Kroemer (yes, him), in their fraud-infested journal Cell Death and Disease:

“Luigi will survive as a Great Spirit in the Pantheon of Science and Medicine.”

A person’s death is sad for their friends and family, but in Maiuri’s case it was a scientific progress, as Max Planck famously quipped. Here is a small selection of what Maiuri (helped by Kroemer) blessed science with while alive (more on PubPeer):

V R Villella , S Esposito , E M Bruscia , M Vicinanza , S Cenci , S Guido , M Pettoello-Mantovani , R Carnuccio , M A De Matteis , A Luini , M C Maiuri , V Raia , G Kroemer , L Maiuri Disease-relevant proteostasis regulation of cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator Cell Death and Differentiation (2013) doi: 10.1038/cdd.2013.46 
Alessandro Luciani , Valeria Rachela Villella , Speranza Esposito , Manuela Gavina , Ilaria Russo , Marco Silano , Stefano Guido , Massimo Pettoello-Mantovani , Rosa Carnuccio , Bob Scholte , Antonella De Matteis , Maria Chiara Maiuri , Valeria Raia , Alberto Luini , Guido Kroemer , Luigi Maiuri Targeting autophagy as a novel strategy for facilitating the therapeutic action of potentiators on ΔF508 cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator Autophagy (2012) doi: 10.4161/auto.21483 

Back to Masliah. Here is his collaboration with another toxic figure, Frederic Checler, Research Director at INSERM-CNRS Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology (IPMC) in Valbonne, France. Checler has over 30 often fake papers on PubPeer, his mentee and regular co-author on that trash, Cristine Alves Da Costa, is presently a tenured junior research director at the same institute. Look at this gel figure now:

To see who we are dealing with here, a small selection of Checler’s and Alves da Costa’s scientific achievements:

Cristine Alves Da Costa , Erwan Paitel , Bruno Vincent , Frédéric Checler Alpha-synuclein lowers p53-dependent apoptotic response of neuronal cells. Abolishment by 6-hydroxydopamine and implication for Parkinson’s disease Journal of Biological Chemistry (2002) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m207825200 
Emilie Giaime , Claire Sunyach , Magali Herrant , Sébastien Grosso , Patrick Auberger , Pamela J. McLean , Frédéric Checler , Cristine Alves Da Costa Caspase-3-derived C-terminal product of synphilin-1 displays antiapoptotic function via modulation of the p53-dependent cell death pathway Journal of Biological Chemistry (2006) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m508619200 
P. Marambaud , C. Alves Da Costa , K. Ancolio , F. Checler Alzheimer’s disease-linked mutation of presenilin 2 (N141I-PS2) drastically lowers APPalpha secretion: control by the proteasome Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (1998) doi: 10.1006/bbrc.1998.9619
E. Paitel , C. Alves Da Costa , D. Vilette , J. Grassi , F. Checler Overexpression of PrPc triggers caspase 3 activation: potentiation by proteasome inhibitors and blockade by anti-PrP antibodies Journal of Neurochemistry (2002) doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.2002.01234.x 

By the way, Checler’s regular collaborator in the UK, Professor Peter St George-Hyslop (OC, FRS, FRSC, FRCPC, 24 papers on PubPeer) was investigated in 2016 by his University of Cambridge and Wellcome Trust, with the verdict:

“The investigation concluded that the allegations made are entirely unfounded.”

In France, they probably didn’t even investigate, but prophylactically sacked everyone who criticised Checler and his lady friend.

Less infamous, but still questionable are Masliah’s collaborators Li Gan, professor at Weill Cornell, and Melanie Ott, Senior Vice President of Gladstone Institutes at San Francisco:

Sang-Won Min , Seo-Hyun Cho , Yungui Zhou , Sebastian Schroeder , Vahram Haroutunian , William W. Seeley , Eric J. Huang , Yong Shen , Eliezer Masliah, Chandrani Mukherjee , David Meyers , Philip A. Cole, Melanie Ott, Li Gan Acetylation of tau inhibits its degradation and contributes to tauopathy Neuron (2010) doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.08.044

Again, Masliah with Gan, note that the image was copy-pasted after colour adjustment:

Sang-Won Min , Peter Dongmin Sohn , Yaqiao Li , Nino Devidze , Jeffrey R. Johnson , Nevan J. Krogan , Eliezer Masliah , Sue-Ann Mok , Jason E. Gestwicki , Li Gan SIRT1 Deacetylates Tau and Reduces Pathogenic Tau Spread in a Mouse Model of Tauopathy Journal of Neuroscience (2018) doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.2369-17.2018 

Here a rare case where one of Masliah’s collaborators took responsibility:

Nripesh Dhungel , Simona Eleuteri , Ling-bo Li , Nicholas J. Kramer , Justin W. Chartron , Brian Spencer , Kori Kosberg , Jerel Adam Fields , Klodjan Stafa , Anthony Adame , Hilal Lashuel , Judith Frydman, Kang Shen , Eliezer Masliah, Aaron D. Gitler Parkinson’s Disease Genes VPS35 and EIF4G1 Interact Genetically and Converge on α-Synuclein Neuron (2015) doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.11.027 

Another potential concern regarding Fig. 5.
Presumably, the small black boxes in the lower-magnification images in A, C, and E are intended to indicate the regions shown at higher magnification in the panels below (the figure legend does not mention the boxes). However, even after close examination of the high-res version of this figure, it is very difficult to discern the relationship between the small boxes and the enlarged panels

The paper was already corrected in 2015 because “a mistake during assembly of the final version of Figure 3 resulted in three out of the four images of yeast spotting assays in Figure 3D being duplicates.” Now more duplicates, in a different figure and with tissue slices instead of yeast.

The Stanford professor Aaron Gitler shared raw data and explained on PubPeer in October 2022:

When we assembled the figure, we added some of the wrong images to Figure 5C by mistake. We have gone back to the original micrographs and have corrected the insets for Figure 5C with the correct images.

Such things happened to Gitler’s before, see Cathouis et al 2011, which was very commendably corrected right away. Let’s hope for a swift correction in this case also.

The paper Luo et al PNAS 2007, which Masliah published together with the Stanford professor and young-blood enthusiast Tony Wyss-Coray, had been promised to be fixed in April 2021 and still wasn’t. You can read about Wyss-Coray’s research here:

Bleed’em while they’re young

“There’s still a long way to go – blood is complicated. But there are many excellent labs focused on this, so I am optimistic about progress.” – Aubrey de Grey.

This one is also rotting on PubPeer since 2021:

Valeriy Duka , Jae-Hoon Lee , Joel Credle , Jonathan Wills , Adam Oaks , Ciaran Smolinsky , Ketul Shah , Deborah C. Mash, Eliezer Masliah , Anita Sidhu Identification of the sites of tau hyperphosphorylation and activation of tau kinases in synucleinopathies and Alzheimer’s diseases PLoS ONE (2013) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075025

In September 2021, the University of Miami professor and biotech entrepreneur Deborah C. Mash stated on PubPeer:

Dr. Sidu’s laboratory conducting these studies.”

And that was it. Although to be fair, also papers from Mash’s own lab have image duplication problems, see:

David A. Davis, Kiyo Mondo , Erica Stern , Ama K. Annor , Susan J. Murch , Thomas M. Coyne , Larry E. Brand , Misty E. Niemeyer , Sarah Sharp , Walter G. Bradley , Paul Alan Cox , Deborah C. Mash Cyanobacterial neurotoxin BMAA and brain pathology in stranded dolphins PLoS ONE (2019) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213346 
David A Davis, Paul Alan Cox , Sandra Anne Banack , Patricia D Lecusay , Susanna P Garamszegi , Matthew J Hagan , James T Powell , James S Metcalf , Roberta M Palmour , Amy Beierschmitt , Walter G Bradley , Deborah C Mash l-Serine Reduces Spinal Cord Pathology in a Vervet Model of Preclinical ALS/MND Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology (2020) doi: 10.1093/jnen/nlaa002 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that several of Masliah’s lab members and collaborators aren’t entirely honest scientists. Maybe this what is needed for academic careers to succeed. Maybe Masliah isn’t such a great scientist himself.

Original photo: @niagads/Twitter


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3 comments on “The potential problems of Eliezer Masliah

  1. You mention the latter day “Catweasel”, Aubrey de Grey.


  2. You mention the Catweasel lookalike, Aubrey de Grey. Problem is Aubrey de Grey was not as benign as Catweasel.


  3. Its “Catweazle” not Catweasel..


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