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Annotator: postprocessing software for generating function-based signatures from quantitative mass spectrometry

Sylvester, JE;Bray, TS;Kron, SJ;

Mass spectrometry is used to investigate global changes in protein abundance in cell lysates. Increasingly powerful methods of data collection have emerged over the past decade, but this has left researchers with the task of sifting through mountains of data for biologically significant results. Often, the end result is a list of proteins with no obvious quantitative relationships to define the larger context of changes in cell behavior. Researchers are often forced to perform a manual analysis from this list or to fall back on a range of disparate tools, which can hinder the communication of results and their reproducibility. To address these methodological problems, we developed Annotator, an application that filters validated mass spectrometry data and applies a battery of standardized heuristic and statistical tests to determine significance. To address systems-level interpretations, we incorporated UniProt and Gene Ontology keywords as statistical units of analysis, yielding quantitative information about changes in abundance for an entire functional category. This provides a consistent and quantitative method for formulating conclusions about cellular behavior, independent of network models or standard enrichment analyses. Annotator allows for bottom-up annotations that are based on experimental data and not inferred by comparison to external or hypothetical models. Annotator was developed as an independent postprocessing platform that runs on all common operating systems, thereby providing a useful tool for establishing the inherently dynamic nature of functional annotations, which depend on results from ongoing proteomic experiments. Annotator is available for download at .