Tandem mass tag

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Tandem mass tags (TMT or TMTs) are chemical labels used for mass spectrometry (MS)-based quantification and identification of biological macromolecules such as proteins, peptides and nucleic acids. TMT belongs to a family of reagents referred to as isobaric mass tags. They provide an alternative to gel- or antibody-based quantification but may also be used in combination with these and other methods.[1]


There are currently four varieties of TMT available: TMTzero, a non-isotopically substituted core structure; TMTduplex, an isobaric pair of mass tags with a single isotopic substitution;[1] TMTsixplex, an isobaric set of six mass tags with five isotopic substitutions;[2] TMT 10-plex - a set of 10 isotopic mass tags which use the TMTsixplex reporter region, but use different elemental isotope to create a mass difference of 0.0063 Da.[3]

The tags contain four regions, namely a mass reporter region (M), a cleavable linker region (F), a mass normalization region (N) and a protein reactive group (R). The chemical structures of all the tags are identical but each contains isotopes substituted at various positions, such that the mass reporter and mass normalization regions have different molecular masses in each tag. The combined M-F-N-R regions of the tags have the same total molecular weights and structure so that during chromatographic or electrophoretic separation and in single MS mode, molecules labelled with different tags are indistinguishable. Upon fragmentation in MS/MS mode, sequence information is obtained from fragmentation of the peptide back bone and quantification data are simultaneously obtained from fragmentation of the tags, giving rise to mass reporter ions.

Identification and quantification of TMT-labeled peptides[edit]

The structures of TMT tags are publicly available through the unimod database at unimod.org and hence, mass spectrometry software such as Mascot are able to account for the tag masses. Additionally, as of version 2.2, Mascot has the capability to quantify using TMT and other isobaric mass tags without the use of additional software. Intuitively, the trust associated with a protein measurement depends on the similarity of ratios from different peptides and the signal level of these measurements. A mathematically rigorous approach called BACIQ, that integrates peptide intensities and peptide-measurement agreement into confidence intervals for protein ratios has emerged.[4] The TKO standard can be used to assess interference [5]


  1. ^ a b Thompson A, Schäfer J, Kuhn K, et al. (2003). "Tandem mass tags: a novel quantification strategy for comparative analysis of complex protein mixtures by MS/MS". Anal. Chem. 75 (8): 1895–904. doi:10.1021/ac0262560. PMID 12713048.
  2. ^ Dayon L, Hainard A, Licker V, Turck N, Kuhn K, Hochstrasser DF, Burkhard PR, Sanchez JC (2008). "Relative quantification of proteins in human cerebrospinal fluids by MS/MS using 6-plex isobaric tags". Anal. Chem. 80 (8): 2921–31. doi:10.1021/ac702422x. PMID 18312001.
  3. ^ Werner, T; Sweetman, G; Savitski, MF; Mathieson, T; Bantscheff, M; Savitski, MM (Apr 1, 2014). "Ion Coalescence of Neutron Encoded TMT 10-Plex Reporter Ions". Analytical Chemistry. 86 (7): 3594–601. doi:10.1021/ac500140s. PMID 24579773.
  4. ^ Peshkin, L.; Ryazanova, L.; Wuhr, M.; et al. (2017). "Bayesian Confidence Intervals for Multiplexed Proteomics Integrate Ion-Statistics with Peptide Quantification Concordance.". bioRxiv 210476.
  5. ^ Paulo, JA; O'Connell, JD; Gygi, SP (2017). "A Triple Knockout (TKO) Proteomics Standard for Diagnosing Ion Interference in Isobaric Labeling Experiments". J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 10 (10): 1620–5. Bibcode:2016JASMS..27.1620P. doi:10.1007/s13361-016-1434-9. PMC 5018445. PMID 27400695.