Assay design for unambiguous identification and quantification of circulating pathogen-derived peptide biomarkers

Theranostics. 2022 Mar 21;12(6):2948-2962. doi: 10.7150/thno.70373. eCollection 2022.


Rationale: Circulating pathogen-derived proteins can serve as useful biomarkers for infections but may be detected with poor sensitivity and specificity by standard immunoassays due to masking effects and cross-reactivity. Mass spectrometry (MS)-read immunoassays for biomarker-derived peptides can resolve these issues, but lack standard workflows to select species-specific peptides with strong MS signal that are suitable for antibody generation. Methods:Using a Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) protein as an example, candidate peptides were selected by length, species-specificity, MS intensity, and antigenicity score. MS data from spiked healthy serum was employed to define MS feature thresholds, including a novel measure of internal MS data correlation, to produce a peak detection algorithm. Results: This algorithm performed better in rejecting false positive signal than each of its criteria, including those currently employed for this purpose. Analysis of an Mtb peptide biomarker (CFP-10pep) by this approach identified tuberculosis cases not detected by microbiologic assays, including extrapulmonary tuberculosis and tuberculosis cases in children infected with HIV-1. Circulating CFP-10pep levels measured in a non-human primate model of tuberculosis distinguished disease from asymptomatic infection and tended to correspond with Mtb granuloma size, suggesting that it could also serve as a surrogate marker for Mtb burden and possibly treatment response. Conclusions: These biomarker selection and analysis approach appears to have strong potential utility for infectious disease diagnosis, including cryptic infections, and possibly to monitor changes in Mtb burden that may reflect disease progression or a response to treatment, which are critical needs for more effective disease control.

Keywords: MRM; immunoprecipitation; mass spectrometry; peptide biomarker; tuberculosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis*
  • Peptides
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tuberculosis* / diagnosis
  • Tuberculosis* / microbiology


  • Biomarkers
  • Peptides