Statistical evaluation of electrospray tandem mass spectra for optimized peptide fragmentation

Abstract

Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) has become the method of choice for the analysis of complex peptide mixtures. It combines the separation power of nanoflow LC with highly specific sequence analysis, allowing automated peptide sequencing with high resolution and throughput. For peptide fragmentation, the current experimental setup uses predefined parameters based on the mass-to-charge ratio of the individual precursor. Suitable parameters are typically established by empirical evaluation of fragment spectra of individual peptides used as standards. As a result, nonoptimal fragment spectra are obtained if peptides show fragmentation behavior different from these standards, which often result in the loss of sequence-specific fragment ion information. Here we describe a statistical approach for the systematic evaluation of the quality of individual peptide fragment spectra based on the calculation of their arithmetic mean and standard deviation. The method utilizes the dependence of these parameters on the difference in electric potential across the collision cell to determine the value that results in maximum information content. We show that the method is applicable to fragment spectra generated from a variety of multiply-charged tryptic peptides, over a wide concentration range, and on different types of mass analyzers. We also show how this novel approach can be used to define optimized collision energy settings over a wide mass-to-charge range.

Published online February 10, 2005