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Open Access Methodology article

Enhanced peptide quantification using spectral count clustering and cluster abundance

Seungmook Lee1, Min-Seok Kwon2, Hyoung-Joo Lee3, Young-Ki Paik3, Haixu Tang4, Jae K Lee5* and Taesung Park12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Statistics, Seoul National University, Korea

2 Interdisciplinary program in Bioinformatics, Seoul National University, Korea

3 Department of Biochemistry, Yonsei Proteome Research Center and Biomedical Proteome Research Center, Yonsei University, Korea

4 Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics, Indiana University, USA

5 Department of Public Health Sciences, Division of Biostatistics, University of Virginia School of Medicine, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:423  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-423

Published: 28 October 2011

Abstract

Background

Quantification of protein expression by means of mass spectrometry (MS) has been introduced in various proteomics studies. In particular, two label-free quantification methods, such as spectral counting and spectra feature analysis have been extensively investigated in a wide variety of proteomic studies. The cornerstone of both methods is peptide identification based on a proteomic database search and subsequent estimation of peptide retention time. However, they often suffer from restrictive database search and inaccurate estimation of the liquid chromatography (LC) retention time. Furthermore, conventional peptide identification methods based on the spectral library search algorithms such as SEQUEST or SpectraST have been found to provide neither the best match nor high-scored matches. Lastly, these methods are limited in the sense that target peptides cannot be identified unless they have been previously generated and stored into the database or spectral libraries.

To overcome these limitations, we propose a novel method, namely Quantification method based on Finding the Identical Spectral set for a Homogenous peptide (Q-FISH) to estimate the peptide's abundance from its tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) spectra through the direct comparison of experimental spectra. Intuitively, our Q-FISH method compares all possible pairs of experimental spectra in order to identify both known and novel proteins, significantly enhancing identification accuracy by grouping replicated spectra from the same peptide targets.

Results

We applied Q-FISH to Nano-LC-MS/MS data obtained from human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and normal liver tissue samples to identify differentially expressed peptides between the normal and disease samples. For a total of 44,318 spectra obtained through MS/MS analysis, Q-FISH yielded 14,747 clusters. Among these, 5,777 clusters were identified only in the HCC sample, 6,648 clusters only in the normal tissue sample, and 2,323 clusters both in the HCC and normal tissue samples. While it will be interesting to investigate peptide clusters only found from one sample, further examined spectral clusters identified both in the HCC and normal samples since our goal is to identify and assess differentially expressed peptides quantitatively. The next step was to perform a beta-binomial test to isolate differentially expressed peptides between the HCC and normal tissue samples. This test resulted in 84 peptides with significantly differential spectral counts between the HCC and normal tissue samples. We independently identified 50 and 95 peptides by SEQUEST, of which 24 and 56 peptides, respectively, were found to be known biomarkers for the human liver cancer. Comparing Q-FISH and SEQUEST results, we found 22 of the differentially expressed 84 peptides by Q-FISH were also identified by SEQUEST. Remarkably, of these 22 peptides discovered both by Q-FISH and SEQUEST, 13 peptides are known for human liver cancer and the remaining 9 peptides are known to be associated with other cancers.

Conclusions

We proposed a novel statistical method, Q-FISH, for accurately identifying protein species and simultaneously quantifying the expression levels of identified peptides from mass spectrometry data. Q-FISH analysis on human HCC and liver tissue samples identified many protein biomarkers that are highly relevant to HCC. Q-FISH can be a useful tool both for peptide identification and quantification on mass spectrometry data analysis. It may also prove to be more effective in discovering novel protein biomarkers than SEQUEST and other standard methods.