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J Proteome Res. 2017 Apr 7;16(4):1817-1824. doi: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.7b00028. Epub 2017 Mar 13.

Param-Medic: A Tool for Improving MS/MS Database Search Yield by Optimizing Parameter Settings.

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Department of Genome Sciences, University of Washington , Seattle, Washington 98195, United States.
Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington , Seattle, Washington 98195, United States.


In shotgun proteomics analysis, user-specified parameters are critical to database search performance and therefore to the yield of confident peptide-spectrum matches (PSMs). Two of the most important parameters are related to the accuracy of the mass spectrometer. Precursor mass tolerance defines the peptide candidates considered for each spectrum. Fragment mass tolerance or bin size determines how close observed and theoretical fragments must be to be considered a match. For either of these two parameters, too wide a setting yields randomly high-scoring false PSMs, whereas too narrow a setting erroneously excludes true PSMs, in both cases, lowering the yield of peptides detected at a given false discovery rate. We describe a strategy for inferring optimal search parameters by assembling and analyzing pairs of spectra that are likely to have been generated by the same peptide ion to infer precursor and fragment mass error. This strategy does not rely on a database search, making it usable in a wide variety of settings. In our experiments on data from a variety of instruments including Orbitrap and Q-TOF acquisitions, this strategy yields more high-confidence PSMs than using settings based on instrument defaults or determined by experts. Param-Medic is open-source and cross-platform. It is available as a standalone tool ( ) and has been integrated into the Crux proteomics toolkit ( ), providing automatic parameter selection for the Comet and Tide search engines.


database search; mass accuracy; tandem mass spectrometry

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