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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Accurate peak list extraction from proteomic mass spectra for identification and profiling studies

Nicola Barbarini* and Paolo Magni

Author Affiliations

Dipartimento di Informatica e Sistemistica, Università degli Studi di Pavia, Pavia, Italy

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BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:518  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-518

Published: 16 October 2010



Mass spectrometry is an essential technique in proteomics both to identify the proteins of a biological sample and to compare proteomic profiles of different samples. In both cases, the main phase of the data analysis is the procedure to extract the significant features from a mass spectrum. Its final output is the so-called peak list which contains the mass, the charge and the intensity of every detected biomolecule. The main steps of the peak list extraction procedure are usually preprocessing, peak detection, peak selection, charge determination and monoisotoping operation.


This paper describes an original algorithm for peak list extraction from low and high resolution mass spectra. It has been developed principally to improve the precision of peak extraction in comparison to other reference algorithms. It contains many innovative features among which a sophisticated method for managing the overlapping isotopic distributions.


The performances of the basic version of the algorithm and of its optional functionalities have been evaluated in this paper on both SELDI-TOF, MALDI-TOF and ESI-FTICR ECD mass spectra. Executable files of MassSpec, a MATLAB implementation of the peak list extraction procedure for Windows and Linux systems, can be downloaded free of charge for nonprofit institutions from the following web site: webcite