Widespread positive selection in synonymous sites of mammalian genes

Alissa M. Resch*, Liran Carmel, Leonardo Mariño-Ramírez, Aleksey Y. Ogurtsov, Svetlana A. Shabalina, Igor B. Rogozin, Eugene V. Koonin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations

Abstract

Evolution of protein sequences is largely governed by purifying selection, with a small fraction of proteins evolving under positive selection. The evolution at synonymous positions in protein-coding genes is not nearly as well understood, with the extent and types of selection remaining, largely, unclear. A statistical test to identify purifying and positive selection at synonymous sites in protein-coding genes was developed. The method compares the rate of evolution at synonymous sites (Ks) to that in intron sequences of the same gene after sampling the aligned intron sequences to mimic the statistical properties of coding sequences. We detected purifying selection at synonymous sites in ∼28% of the 1,562 analyzed orthologous genes from mouse and rat, and positive selection in ∼12% of the genes. Thus, the fraction of genes with readily detectable positive selection at synonymous sites is much greater than the fraction of genes with comparable positive selection at nonsynonymous sites, i.e., at the level of the protein sequence. Unlike other genes, the genes with positive selection at synonymous sites showed no correlation between Ks and the rate of evolution in nonsynonymous sites (Ka), indicating that evolution of synonymous sites under positive selection is decoupled from protein evolution. The genes with purifying selection at synonymous sites showed significant anticorrelation between Ks and expression level and breadth, indicating that highly expressed genes evolve slowly. The genes with positive selection at synonymous sites showed the opposite trend, i.e., highly expressed genes had, on average, higher Ks. For the genes with positive selection at synonymous sites, a significantly lower mRNA stability is predicted compared to the genes with negative selection. Thus, mRNA destabilization could be an important factor driving positive selection in nonsynonymous sites, probably, through regulation of expression at the level of mRNA degradation and, possibly, also translation rate. So, unexpectedly, we found that positive selection at synonymous sites of mammalian genes is substantially more common than positive selection at the level of protein sequences. Positive selection at synonymous sites might act through mRNA destabilization affecting mRNA levels and translation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1821-1831
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Volume24
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2007
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Introns
  • Nonsynonymous sites
  • Positive selection
  • Purifying selection
  • Synonymous sites

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