Automatic validation of phosphopeptide identifications from tandem mass spectra

Anal Chem. 2007 Feb 15;79(4):1301-10. doi: 10.1021/ac061334v.


We developed and compared two approaches for automated validation of phosphopeptide tandem mass spectra identified using database searching algorithms. Phosphopeptide identifications were obtained through SEQUEST searches of a protein database appended with its decoy (reversed sequences). Statistical evaluation and iterative searches were employed to create a high-quality data set of phosphopeptides. Automation of postsearch validation was approached by two different strategies. By using statistical multiple testing, we calculate a p value for each tentative peptide phosphorylation. In a second method, we use a support vector machine (SVM; a machine learning algorithm) binary classifier to predict whether a tentative peptide phosphorylation is true. We show good agreement (85%) between postsearch validation of phosphopeptide/spectrum matches by multiple testing and that from support vector machines. Automatic methods conform very well with manual expert validation in a blinded test. Additionally, the algorithms were tested on the identification of synthetic phosphopeptides. We show that phosphate neutral losses in tandem mass spectra can be used to assess the correctness of phosphopeptide/spectrum matches. An SVM classifier with a radial basis function provided classification accuracy from 95.7% to 96.8% of the positive data set, depending on search algorithm used. Establishing the efficacy of an identification is a necessary step for further postsearch interrogation of the spectra for complete localization of phosphorylation sites. Our current implementation performs validation of phosphoserine/phosphothreonine-containing peptides having one or two phosphorylation sites from data gathered on an ion trap mass spectrometer. The SVM-based algorithm has been implemented in the software package DeBunker. We illustrate the application of the SVM-based software DeBunker on a large phosphorylation data set.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Databases, Protein
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Phosphopeptides / analysis
  • Phosphopeptides / chemical synthesis
  • Phosphopeptides / chemistry*
  • Rats
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods*


  • Phosphopeptides