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Anal Chem. 2012 Mar 20;84(6):3026-32. doi: 10.1021/ac203255e. Epub 2012 Mar 7.

Improved mass defect model for theoretical tryptic peptides.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas 77555, United States.


Improvements in the mass accuracy and resolution of mass spectrometers have greatly aided mass spectrometry-based proteomics in profiling complex biological mixtures. With the use of innovative bioinformatics approaches, high mass accuracy and resolution information can be used for filtering chemical noise in mass spectral data. Using our recent algorithmic developments, we have generated the mass distributions of all theoretical tryptic peptides composed of 20 natural amino acids and with masses limited to 3.5 kDa. Peptide masses are distributed discretely, with well-defined peak clusters separated by empty or sparsely populated trough regions. Accurate models for peak centers and widths can be used to filter peptide signals from chemical noise. We modeled mass defects, the difference between monoisotopic and nominal masses, and peak centers and widths in the peptide mass distributions. We found that peak widths encompassing 95% of all peptide sequences are substantially smaller than previously thought. The result has implications for filtering out larger stretches of the mass axis. Mass defects of peptides exhibit an oscillatory behavior which is damped at high mass values. The periodicity of the oscillations is about 14 Da which is the most common difference between the masses of the 20 natural amino acids. To determine the effects of amino acid modifications on our findings, we examined the mass distributions of peptides composed of the 20 natural amino acids, oxidized Met, and phosphorylated Ser, Thr, and Tyr. We found that extension of the amino acid set by modifications increases the 95% peak width. Mass defects decrease, reflecting the fact that the average mass defect of natural amino acids is larger than that of oxidized Met. We propose that a new model for mass defects and peak widths of peptides may improve peptide identifications by filtering chemical noise in mass spectral data.

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