Defining and Detecting Complex Peak Relationships in Mass Spectral Data: The Mz.unity Algorithm

Nathaniel G. Mahieu, Jonathan L. Spalding, Susan J. Gelman, Gary J. Patti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Analysis of a single analyte by mass spectrometry can result in the detection of more than 100 degenerate peaks. These degenerate peaks complicate spectral interpretation and are challenging to annotate. In mass spectrometry-based metabolomics, this degeneracy leads to inflated false discovery rates, data sets containing an order of magnitude more features than analytes, and an inefficient use of resources during data analysis. Although software has been introduced to annotate spectral degeneracy, current approaches are unable to represent several important classes of peak relationships. These include heterodimers and higher complex adducts, distal fragments, relationships between peaks in different polarities, and complex adducts between features and background peaks. Here we outline sources of peak degeneracy in mass spectra that are not annotated by current approaches and introduce a software package called mz.unity to detect these relationships in accurate mass data. Using mz.unity, we find that data sets contain many more complex relationships than we anticipated. Examples include the adduct of glutamate and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), fragments of NAD detected in the same or opposite polarities, and the adduct of glutamate and a background peak. Further, the complex relationships we identify show that several assumptions commonly made when interpreting mass spectral degeneracy do not hold in general. These contributions provide new tools and insight to aid in the annotation of complex spectral relationships and provide a foundation for improved data set identification. Mz.unity is an R package and is freely available at as well as our laboratory Web site

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9037-9046
Number of pages10
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 20 2016


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