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Genetics. 2002 Dec; 162(4): 1837–1847.
PMCID: PMC1462357

Vanishing GC-rich isochores in mammalian genomes.


To understand the origin and evolution of isochores-the peculiar spatial distribution of GC content within mammalian genomes-we analyzed the synonymous substitution pattern in coding sequences from closely related species in different mammalian orders. In primate and cetartiodactyls, GC-rich genes are undergoing a large excess of GC --> AT substitutions over AT --> GC substitutions: GC-rich isochores are slowly disappearing from the genome of these two mammalian orders. In rodents, our analyses suggest both a decrease in GC content of GC-rich isochores and an increase in GC-poor isochores, but more data will be necessary to assess the significance of this pattern. These observations question the conclusions of previous works that assumed that base composition was at equilibrium. Analysis of allele frequency in human polymorphism data, however, confirmed that in the GC-rich parts of the genome, GC alleles have a higher probability of fixation than AT alleles. This fixation bias appears not strong enough to overcome the large excess of GC --> AT mutations. Thus, whatever the evolutionary force (neutral or selective) at the origin of GC-rich isochores, this force is no longer effective in mammals. We propose a model based on the biased gene conversion hypothesis that accounts for the origin of GC-rich isochores in the ancestral amniote genome and for their decline in present-day mammals.

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Selected References

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