Spectral networks: a new approach to de novo discovery of protein sequences and posttranslational modifications

Biotechniques. 2007 Jun;42(6):687, 689, 691 passim. doi: 10.2144/000112487.


Significant technological advances have accelerated high-throughput proteomics to the automated generation of millions of tandem mass spectra on a daily basis. In such a setup, the desire for greater sequence coverage combines with standard experimental procedures to commonly yield multiple tandem mass spectra from overlapping peptides-typical observations include peptides differing by one or two terminal amino acids and spectra from modified and unmodified variants of the same peptides. In a departure from the traditional spectrum identification algorithms that analyze each tandem mass spectrum in isolation, spectral networks define a new computational approach that instead finds and simultaneously interprets sets of spectra from overlapping peptides. In shotgun protein sequencing, spectral networks capitalize on the redundant sequence information in the aligned spectra to deliver the longest and most accurate de novo sequences ever reported for ion trap data. Also, by combining spectra from multiple modified and unmodified variants of the same peptides, spectral networks are able to bypass the dominant guess/confirm approach to the identification of posttranslational modifications and alternatively discover modifications and highly modified peptides directly from experimental data. Open-source implementations of these algorithms may be downloaded from peptide.ucsd.edu.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Consensus Sequence
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptides / analysis
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational*
  • Proteins / analysis*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Sequence Analysis, Protein
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry*
  • Trypsin / pharmacology


  • Peptides
  • Proteins
  • Trypsin