Role of spectral counting in quantitative proteomics

Expert Rev Proteomics. 2010 Feb;7(1):39-53. doi: 10.1586/epr.09.69.


Spectral count, defined as the total number of spectra identified for a protein, has gained acceptance as a practical, label-free, semiquantitative measure of protein abundance in proteomic studies. In this review, we discuss issues affecting the performance of spectral counting relative to other label-free methods, as well as its limitations. Possible consequences of modifications, which are commonly applied to raw spectral counts to improve abundance estimations, are considered. The use of spectral counting for different types of quantitation studies is explored and critiqued. Different statistical methods and underlying frameworks that have been applied to spectral count analysis are described and compared, and problem areas that undermine confident statistical analysis are considered. Finally, the issue of accurate estimation of false-discovery rates is addressed and identified as a major current challenge in quantitative proteomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Protein
  • Mass Spectrometry / statistics & numerical data*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Proteomics / methods*
  • Proteomics / standards
  • Spectrum Analysis / statistics & numerical data