Comparative evaluation of current peptide production platforms used in absolute quantification in proteomics

Hamid Mirzaei, Joshua K. McBee, Julian Watts, Ruedi Aebersold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Absolute quantification of peptides by mass spectrometry requires a reference, frequently using heavy isotope-coded peptides as internal standards. These peptides have traditionally been generated by chemical stepwise synthesis. Recently a new way to supply such peptides was described in which nucleotide sequences coding for the respective peptides are concatenated into a synthetic gene (QconCAT). These QconCATs are then expressed to produce a polypeptide consisting of concatenated peptides, purified, quantified by various methods, and then digested to yield the final internal standard peptides. Although both of these methods for peptide production are routinely used for absolute quantifications, there is currently no information regarding the accuracy of the quantifications made in each case. In this study, we used sets of synthetic and biological peptides in parallel to evaluate the accuracy of either method. We also addressed some technical issues regarding the preparation and proper utilization of such standard peptides. Twenty-five peptides derived from the Caenorhabditis elegans proteome were selected for this study. Twenty-four were successfully chemically synthesized. Five OconCAT genes were designed, each a concatenation of the same 25 peptides but each in separate, different randomized order, and expressed via in vitro translation reactions that contained heavy isotope-labeled lysine and arginine. Three of the five QconCATs were successfully produced. Different digestion conditions, including various detergents and incubation conditions, were tested to find those optimal for the generation of a reproducible and accurate reference sample mixture. All three QconCAT polypeptides were then digested using the optimized conditions and then mixed in a 1:1 ratio with their synthetic counterparts. Multireaction monitoring mass spectrometry was then used for quantification. Results showed that the digestion protocol had a significant impact on equimolarity of final peptides, confirming the need for optimization. Under optimal conditions, however, most QconCAT peptides were produced at a equimolar ratio. A few QconCAT-derived peptides were largely overestimated due to problems with solubilization or stability of the synthetic peptides. Although the order in which the peptide sequences appeared in the QconCAT sequence proved to affect the success rate of in vitro translation, it did not significantly affect the final peptide yields. Overall neither the chemical synthesis nor a recombinant genetic approach proved to be superior s a method for the production of reference peptides for absolute quantification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-823
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular and Cellular Proteomics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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