Efficient Marginalization to Compute Protein Posterior Probabilities from Shotgun Mass Spectrometry Data

The problem of identifying proteins from a shotgun proteomics experiment has not been definitively solved. Identifying the proteins in a sample requires ranking them, ideally with interpretable scores. In particular, “degenerate” peptides, which map to multiple proteins, have made such a ranking difficult to compute. The problem of computing posterior probabilities for the proteins, which can be interpreted as confidence in a protein’s presence, has been especially daunting. Previous approaches have either ignored the peptide degeneracy problem completely, addressed it by computing a heuristic set of proteins or heuristic posterior probabilities, or estimated the posterior probabilities with sampling methods. We present a probabilistic model for protein identification in tandem mass spectrometry that recognizes peptide degeneracy. We then introduce graph-transforming algorithms that facilitate efficient computation of protein probabilities, even for large data sets. We evaluate our identification procedure on five different well-characterized data sets and demonstrate our ability to efficiently compute high-quality protein posteriors.