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J Proteome Res. 2014 Feb 7;13(2):1034-1044. doi: 10.1021/pr401017h. Epub 2013 Dec 10.

Accurate label-free protein quantitation with high- and low-resolution mass spectrometers.

Author information

Oregon Hearing Research Center & Vollum Institute, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR.
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR.
Proteomics Shared Resource, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR.
W.M. Keck Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Lab, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.
Department of Public Health & Preventative Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR.
Contributed equally


Label-free quantitation of proteins analyzed by tandem mass spectrometry uses either integrated peak intensity from the parent-ion mass analysis (MS1) or features from fragment-ion analysis (MS2), such as spectral counts or summed fragment-ion intensity. We directly compared MS1 and MS2 quantitation by analyzing human protein standards diluted into Escherichia coli extracts on an Orbitrap mass spectrometer. We found that summed MS2 intensities were nearly as accurate as integrated MS1 intensities, and both outperformed MS2 spectral counting in accuracy and linearity. We compared these results to those obtained from two low-resolution ion-trap mass spectrometers; summed MS2 intensities from LTQ and LTQ Velos instruments were similar in accuracy to those from the Orbitrap. Data from all three instruments are available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD000602. Abundance measurements using MS1 or MS2 intensities had limitations, however. While measured protein concentration was on average well-correlated with the known concentration, there was considerable protein-to-protein variation. Moreover, not all human proteins diluted to a mole fraction of 10(-3) or lower were detected, with a strong falloff below 10(-4) mole fraction. These results show that MS1 and MS2 intensities are simple measures of protein abundance that are on average accurate but should be limited to quantitation of proteins of intermediate to higher fractional abundance.

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