Open searching has proven to be an effective strategy for identifying both known and unknown modifications in shotgun proteomics experiments. Rather than being limited to a small set of user-specified modifications, open searches identify peptides with any mass shift that may correspond to a single modification or a combination of several modifications. Here we present PTM-Shepherd, a bioinformatics tool that automates characterization of PTM profiles detected in open searches based on attributes such as amino acid localization, fragmentation spectra similarity, retention time shifts, and relative modification rates. PTM-Shepherd can also perform multi-experiment comparisons for studying changes in modification profiles, e.g. in data generated in different laboratories or under different conditions. We demonstrate how PTM-Shepherd improves the analysis of data from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded samples, detects extreme underalkylation of cysteine in some datasets, discovers an artefactual modification introduced during peptide synthesis, and uncovers site-specific biases in sample preparation artifacts in a multi-center proteomics profiling study.
Recommended citation: Geiszler DJ, Kong AT, Avtonomov DM, Yu F, da Veiga Leprevost F, Nesvizhskii AI. PTM-Shepherd: analysis and summarization of post-translational and chemical modifications from open search results. Mol Cell Proteomics. 2020 Dec 1:mcp.TIR120.002216. doi: 10.1074/mcp.TIR120.002216. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33262148.