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Mol Cell Proteomics. 2010 Sep;9(9):1885-97. doi: 10.1074/mcp.M900628-MCP200. Epub 2010 Apr 10.

Addressing accuracy and precision issues in iTRAQ quantitation.

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European Bioinformatics Institute, European Molecular Biology Laboratory Outstation, Hinxton, UK.


iTRAQ (isobaric tags for relative or absolute quantitation) is a mass spectrometry technology that allows quantitative comparison of protein abundance by measuring peak intensities of reporter ions released from iTRAQ-tagged peptides by fragmentation during MS/MS. However, current data analysis techniques for iTRAQ struggle to report reliable relative protein abundance estimates and suffer with problems of precision and accuracy. The precision of the data is affected by variance heterogeneity: low signal data have higher relative variability; however, low abundance peptides dominate data sets. Accuracy is compromised as ratios are compressed toward 1, leading to underestimation of the ratio. This study investigated both issues and proposed a methodology that combines the peptide measurements to give a robust protein estimate even when the data for the protein are sparse or at low intensity. Our data indicated that ratio compression arises from contamination during precursor ion selection, which occurs at a consistent proportion within an experiment and thus results in a linear relationship between expected and observed ratios. We proposed that a correction factor can be calculated from spiked proteins at known ratios. Then we demonstrated that variance heterogeneity is present in iTRAQ data sets irrespective of the analytical packages, LC-MS/MS instrumentation, and iTRAQ labeling kit (4-plex or 8-plex) used. We proposed using an additive-multiplicative error model for peak intensities in MS/MS quantitation and demonstrated that a variance-stabilizing normalization is able to address the error structure and stabilize the variance across the entire intensity range. The resulting uniform variance structure simplifies the downstream analysis. Heterogeneity of variance consistent with an additive-multiplicative model has been reported in other MS-based quantitation including fields outside of proteomics; consequently the variance-stabilizing normalization methodology has the potential to increase the capabilities of MS in quantitation across diverse areas of biology and chemistry.

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