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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Identification of alternative splice variants in Aspergillus flavus through comparison of multiple tandem MS search algorithms

Kung-Yen Chang12 and David C Muddiman2*

Author Affiliations

1 Bioinformatics Research Center, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA

2 W.M. Keck FT-ICR-MS Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:358  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-358

Published: 11 July 2011



Database searching is the most frequently used approach for automated peptide assignment and protein inference of tandem mass spectra. The results, however, depend on the sequences in target databases and on search algorithms. Recently by using an alternative splicing database, we identified more proteins than with the annotated proteins in Aspergillus flavus. In this study, we aimed at finding a greater number of eligible splice variants based on newly available transcript sequences and the latest genome annotation. The improved database was then used to compare four search algorithms: Mascot, OMSSA, X! Tandem, and InsPecT.


The updated alternative splicing database predicted 15833 putative protein variants, 61% more than the previous results. There was transcript evidence for 50% of the updated genes compared to the previous 35% coverage. Database searches were conducted using the same set of spectral data, search parameters, and protein database but with different algorithms. The false discovery rates of the peptide-spectrum matches were estimated < 2%. The numbers of the total identified proteins varied from 765 to 867 between algorithms. Whereas 42% (1651/3891) of peptide assignments were unanimous, the comparison showed that 51% (568/1114) of the RefSeq proteins and 15% (11/72) of the putative splice variants were inferred by all algorithms. 12 plausible isoforms were discovered by focusing on the consensus peptides which were detected by at least three different algorithms. The analysis found different conserved domains in two putative isoforms of UDP-galactose 4-epimerase.


We were able to detect dozens of new peptides using the improved alternative splicing database with the recently updated annotation of the A. flavus genome. Unlike the identifications of the peptides and the RefSeq proteins, large variations existed between the putative splice variants identified by different algorithms. 12 candidates of putative isoforms were reported based on the consensus peptide-spectrum matches. This suggests that applications of multiple search engines effectively reduced the possible false positive results and validated the protein identifications from tandem mass spectra using an alternative splicing database.