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Mol Biol Evol. 2000 Jan;17(1):68-74.

Determinants of substitution rates in mammalian genes: expression pattern affects selection intensity but not mutation rate.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Biométrie, Génétique et Biologie des Populations, Université Claude Bernard, Villeurbanne, France. duret@biomserv.univ-lyon1.fr


To determine whether gene expression patterns affect mutation rates and/or selection intensity in mammalian genes, we studied the relationships between substitution rates and tissue distribution of gene expression. For this purpose, we analyzed 2,400 human/rodent and 834 mouse/rat orthologous genes, and we measured (using expressed sequence tag data) their expression patterns in 19 tissues from three development states. We show that substitution rates at nonsynonymous sites are strongly negatively correlated with tissue distribution breadth: almost threefold lower in ubiquitous than in tissue-specific genes. Nonsynonymous substitution rates also vary considerably according to the tissues: the average rate is twofold lower in brain-, muscle-, retina- and neuron-specific genes than in lymphocyte-, lung-, and liver-specific genes. Interestingly, 5' and 3' untranslated regions (UTRs) show exactly the same trend. These results demonstrate that the expression pattern is an essential factor in determining the selective pressure on functional sites in both coding and noncoding regions. Conversely, silent substitution rates do not vary with expression pattern, even in ubiquitously expressed genes. This latter result thus suggests that synonymous codon usage is not constrained by selection in mammals. Furthermore, this result also indicates that there is no reduction of mutation rates in genes expressed in the germ line, contrary to what had been hypothesized based on the fact that transcribed DNA is more efficiently repaired than nontranscribed DNA.

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