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How Often are Retracted microRNA Biomarker Articles Cited in Future Research?

Image Credit: © Sergey Nivens –

A recent study published in JAMA Network Open aimed to determine whether postretraction citations of microRNA (mRNA) biomarker articles were affecting future research. Retraction is an exercise publications can utilize in the event of detecting research misconduct. It alerts the audience to content that may not be fully accurate in their journals. The authors of the study sought to find out how often retracted articles were being cited as legitimate sources and potentially harming research.1

“This study aimed to fill this research gap by conducting a systematic review to identify characteristics of retractions in microRNA biomarker research as a common source of recent retractions,” the authors wrote. “Specifically, we examined trends of postretraction citations by comparing retracted microRNA biomarker articles with a control group of nonretracted articles and investigated whether retraction was associated with reductions in postretraction citations.”

A total of 10,461 articles on mRNA were analyzed, with 887 retractions and 9,574 articles as controls. They were retrieved from PubMed, Web of Science, and Retraction Watch. Data were analyzed from September 2021 through March 2023.

The retracted articles, published from 1999 to 2021, were cited 6,327 times following retraction. Of the 792 retracted articles that were cited, 621 articles (78.41%) were cited at least once after retraction and 238 articles (30.05%) were cited more often after retraction than before retraction. The authors also found that the citations accumulated over time, with one over the first six months and 23 by the 66-month mark.

“To keep retracted research out of scientific knowledge, we should pay attention not only to postretraction citations in individual articles, but also to the accuracy of existing knowledge bases, databases, and datasets,” the authors wrote. “In this study, we found that some microRNA databases included data from retracted research on microRNAs. There are microRNA databases, including microRNA annotation, disease, target, cancer, and lncRNA databases, which are mainly curated by manual collection or by machine learning methods.”

To provide further context to the findings, the authors identified Retraction Watch and PubPeer as the main organizations for identifying questionable research. PubPeer is open to the public to leave comments. However, only 435 of 887 articles (49.04%) received comments or attention and it came from only the most outspoken researchers. This shows that little attention was paid to the retractions, leading to articles continuing to be cited, according to the authors of the current study.

The authors also found that 86.36% of articles in Retraction Watch and 83.43% of articles in PubPeer were labeled as retracted by these organizations, showing that verification against Retraction Watch and PubPeer may not be sufficient.

Looking forward, the authors identified the need for a more updated, comprehensive, and large-scale analysis to be conducted on this topic. mRNA articles, in particular, have recently been put under the spotlight when it comes to retraction. The conclusion of this current study could vary over time, given that these articles in this research area continued to be retracted.

“This systematic review found that retraction was not associated with a reduction in citations of retracted articles. However, publications citing retracted articles as legitimate articles had a high risk of being retracted later,” the authors concluded. “These findings suggest that researchers should verify the status from original sources before citing any references. Additionally, journals and publishers should implement stringent, preferably automated procedures to detect postretraction citations.”


1. Zhu H, Jia Y, Leung S. Citations of microRNA Biomarker Articles That Were Retracted: A Systematic Review. JAMA Netw Open. 2024;7(3):e243173. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.3173.