Motivation: Comparing tandem mass spectra (MSMS) against a known dataset of protein sequences is a common method for identifying unknown proteins; however, the processing of MSMS by current software often limits certain applications, including comprehensive coverage of post-translational modifications, non-specific searches and real-time searches to allow result-dependent instrument control. This problem deserves attention as new mass spectrometers provide the ability for higher throughput and as known protein datasets rapidly grow in size. New software algorithms need to be devised in order to address the performance issues of conventional MSMS protein dataset-based protein identification.
Methods: This paper describes a novel algorithm based on converting a collection of monoisotopic, centroided spectra to a new data structure, named 'peptide finite state machine' (PFSM), which may be used to rapidly search a known dataset of protein sequences, regardless of the number of spectra searched or the number of potential modifications examined. The algorithm is verified using a set of commercially available tryptic digest protein standards analyzed using an ABI 4700 MALDI TOFTOF mass spectrometer, and a free, open source PFSM implementation. It is illustrated that a PFSM can accurately search large collections of spectra against large datasets of protein sequences (e.g. NCBI nr) using a regular desktop PC; however, this paper only details the method for identifying peptide and subsequently protein candidates from a dataset of known protein sequences. The concept of using a PFSM as a peptide pre-screening technique for MSMS-based search engines is validated by using PFSM with Mascot and XTandem.
Availability: Complete source code, documentation and examples for the reference PFSM implementation are freely available at the Proteome Commons, http://www.proteomecommons.org and source code may be used both commercially and non-commercially as long as the original authors are credited for their work.