Improved LC–MS identification of short homologous peptides using sequence-specific retention time predictors

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Peptides are an important group of compounds contributing to the desired, as well as the undesired taste of a food product. Their taste impressions can include aspects of sweetness, bitterness, savoury, umami and many other impressions depending on the amino acids present as well as their sequence. Identification of short peptides in foods is challenging. We developed a method to assign identities to short peptides including homologous structures, i.e. peptides containing the same amino acids with a different sequence order, by accurate prediction of the retention times during reversed phase separation. To train the method, a large set of well-defined short peptides with systematic variations in the amino acid sequence was prepared by a novel synthesis strategy called ‘swapped-sequence synthesis’. Additionally, several proteins were enzymatically digested to yield short peptides. Experimental retention times were determined after reversed phase separation and peptide MS2 data was acquired using a high-resolution mass spectrometer operated in data-dependent acquisition mode (DDA). A support vector regression model was trained using a combination of existing sequence-independent peptide descriptors and a newly derived set of selected amino acid index derived sequence-specific peptide (ASP) descriptors. The model was trained and validated using the experimental retention times of the 713 small food-relevant peptides prepared. Whilst selecting the most useful ASP descriptors for our model, special attention was given to predict the retention time differences between homologous peptide structures. Inclusion of ASP descriptors greatly improved the ability to accurately predict retention times, including retention time differences between 157 homologous peptide pairs. The final prediction model had a goodness-of-fit (Q2) of 0.94; moreover for 93% of the short peptides, the elution order was correctly predicted. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2715-2726
Number of pages12
JournalAnalytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2023


  • Identification
  • Peptides
  • Prediction
  • Retention time
  • Sequence-specific descriptors


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