Identification and relative quantitation of protein mixtures by enzymatic digestion followed by capillary reversed-phase liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry

Anal Chem. 2002 Sep 15;74(18):4741-9. doi: 10.1021/ac0256991.


In this report, we describe an approach for identification and relative quantitation of individual proteins within mixtures using LC/MS/MS analysis of protein digests. First, the proteins are automatically identified by correlating the tandem mass spectra with peptide sequences from a database. Then, peak areas of identified peptides from one protein are added together to define the total reconstructed peak area of the protein digest. The total reconstructed peak area is further normalized to the peak area of an internal standard protein digest present in the mixture at a constant level. The method was illustrated using digested mixtures of five standard proteins as follows. One protein was gradually diluted while the other four components were present in the mixtures at constant level. This study revealed that relative peak area of the variable protein increased linearly (trend line R2 = 0.9978) with increasing amount from 10 to 1000 fmol, while relative peak areas of four constant proteins remained approximately the same (within 20% relative standard deviation). To further evaluate the applicability of this method for the quantitation of proteins from complex mixtures, human plasma protein digest was spiked with 200 and 400 fmol of myoglobin digest. Total peak area of myoglobin peptides was normalized to the total peak area of apolipoprotein A-I peptides from human plasma, which played the role of an internal standard. The myoglobin/apolipoprotein A-I peak area ratio was 2 times larger for the human plasma digest spiked with a double amount of myoglobin. After several repetitions, the error of the relative peak area measurements remained below 11%, suggesting that the method described here can be used for relative concentration measurements of proteins in the complex biological mixtures. In the presented method, chemical derivatization steps are not needed to create an internal standard, as in isotope-coded affinity tag or similar methods.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Calibration
  • Chromatography / methods*
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Proteins / metabolism*


  • Proteins