How much peptide sequence information is contained in ion trap tandem mass spectra?

J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 2008 Dec;19(12):1813-20. doi: 10.1016/j.jasms.2008.07.024. Epub 2008 Aug 7.


Matching peptide tandem mass spectra to their cognate amino acid sequences in databases is a key step in proteomics. It is usually performed by assigning a score to a spectrum-sequence combination. De novo sequencing or partial de novo sequencing is useful for organisms without sequenced genome or for peptides with unexpected modifications. Here we use a very large, high accuracy proteomic dataset to investigate how much peptide sequence information is present in tandem mass spectra generated in a linear ion trap (LTQ). More than 400,000 identified tandem mass spectra from a single human cancer cell line project were assigned to 26,896 distinct peptide sequences. The average absolute fragment mass accuracy is 0.102 Da. There are on average about four complementary b- and y-ions; both series are equally represented but y ions are 2- to 3-fold more intense up to mass 1000. Half of all spectra contain uninterrupted b- or y-ion series of at least six amino acids and combining b- and y-ion information yields on average seven amino acid sequences. These sequences are almost always unique in the human proteome, even without using any precursor or peptide sequence tag information. Thus, optimal de novo sequencing algorithms should be able to obtain substantial sequence information in at least half of all cases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Databases, Protein
  • Genome, Human
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Ions
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Proteomics
  • Sequence Analysis, Protein
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Ions
  • Peptides