Targeted Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Nucleocapsid Sequence Variants by Mass Spectrometric Analysis of Tryptic Peptides

Anthony Maus, Santosh Renuse, Jennifer Kemp, Anil K. Madugundu, Patrick M. Vanderboom, Joseph Blommel, Calvin Jerde, Surendra Dasari, Benjamin R. Kipp, Ravinder J. Singh, Stefan K. Grebe, Akhilesh Pandey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more widely available, but accurate and rapid testing remains a crucial tool for slowing the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus. Although the quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) remains the most prevalent testing methodology, numerous tests have been developed that are predicated on detection of the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein, including liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) and immunoassay-based approaches. The continuing emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants has complicated these approaches, as both qRT-PCR and antigen detection methods can be prone to missing viral variants. In this study, we describe several COVID-19 cases where we were unable to detect the expected peptide targets from clinical nasopharyngeal swabs. Whole genome sequencing revealed that single nucleotide polymorphisms in the gene encoding the viral nucleocapsid protein led to sequence variants that were not monitored in the targeted assay. Minor modifications to the LC-MS/MS method ensured detection of the variants of the target peptide. Additional nucleocapsid variants could be detected by performing the bottom-up proteomic analysis of whole viral genome-sequenced samples. This study demonstrates the importance of considering variants of SARS-CoV-2 in the assay design and highlights the flexibility of mass spectrometry-based approaches to detect variants as they evolve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-150
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Proteome Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 7 2022


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • nucleocapsid
  • single amino acid protein variants
  • tandem mass spectrometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry


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