Towards a hierarchical strategy to explore multi-scale IP/MS data for protein complexes

Joachim Kutzera, Age K. Smilde, Tom F. Wilderjans, Huub C.J. Hoefsloot

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Protein interaction in cells can be described at different levels. At a low interaction level, proteins function together in small, stable complexes and at a higher level, in sets of interacting complexes. All interaction levels are crucial for the living organism, and one of the challenges in proteomics is to measure the proteins at their different interaction levels. One common method for such measurements is immunoprecipitation followed by mass spectrometry (IP/MS), which has the potential to probe the different protein interaction forms. However, IP/MS data are complex because proteins, in their diverse interaction forms, manifest themselves in different ways in the data. Numerous bioinformatic tools for finding protein complexes in IP/MS data are currently available, but most tools do not provide information about the interaction level of the discovered complexes, and no tool is geared specifically to unraveling and visualizing these different levels. We present a new bioinformatic tool to explore IP/MS datasets for protein complexes at different interaction levels and show its performance on several real-life datasets. Our tool creates clusters that represent protein complexes, but unlike previous methods, it arranges them in a tree-shaped structure, reporting why specific proteins are predicted to build a complex and where it can be divided into smaller complexes. In every data analysis method, parameters have to be chosen. Our method can suggest values for its parameters and comes with adapted visualization tools that display the effect of the parameters on the result. The tools provide fast graphical feedback and allow the user to interact with the data by changing the parameters and examining the result. The tools also allow for exploring the different organizational levels of the protein complexes in a given dataset. Our method is available as GNU-R source code and includes examples at

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0139704
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes


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