Detecting protein variants by mass spectrometry: a comprehensive study in cancer cell-lines

Genome Med. 2017 Jul 18;9(1):62. doi: 10.1186/s13073-017-0454-9.


Background: Onco-proteogenomics aims to understand how changes in a cancer's genome influences its proteome. One challenge in integrating these molecular data is the identification of aberrant protein products from mass-spectrometry (MS) datasets, as traditional proteomic analyses only identify proteins from a reference sequence database.

Methods: We established proteomic workflows to detect peptide variants within MS datasets. We used a combination of publicly available population variants (dbSNP and UniProt) and somatic variations in cancer (COSMIC) along with sample-specific genomic and transcriptomic data to examine proteome variation within and across 59 cancer cell-lines.

Results: We developed a set of recommendations for the detection of variants using three search algorithms, a split target-decoy approach for FDR estimation, and multiple post-search filters. We examined 7.3 million unique variant tryptic peptides not found within any reference proteome and identified 4771 mutations corresponding to somatic and germline deviations from reference proteomes in 2200 genes among the NCI60 cell-line proteomes.

Conclusions: We discuss in detail the technical and computational challenges in identifying variant peptides by MS and show that uncovering these variants allows the identification of druggable mutations within important cancer genes.

Keywords: Integrative –omics; Mass-spectrometry-based mutant detection; Personalized proteomics; Protein mutant detection; Protein search databases; Proteoforms; Proteogenomics; Proteomics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Mutation*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / analysis*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Protein Isoforms / analysis
  • Proteomics / methods*
  • Workflow


  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Protein Isoforms