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Gene. 2000 Dec 30;261(1):93-105.

A test of translational selection at 'silent' sites in the human genome: base composition comparisons in alternatively spliced genes.

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  • 1Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics, Department of Biology, 208 Mueller Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.


Natural selection appears to discriminate among synonymous codons to enhance translational efficiency in a wide range of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Codon bias is strongly related to gene expression levels in these species. In addition, between-gene variation in silent DNA divergence is inversely correlated with codon bias. However, in mammals, between-gene comparisons are complicated by distinctive nucleotide-content bias (isochores) throughout the genome. In this study, we attempted to identify translational selection by analyzing the DNA sequences of alternatively spliced genes in humans and in Drosophila melanogaster. Among codons in an alternatively spliced gene, those in constitutively expressed exons are translated more often than those in alternatively spliced exons. Thus, translational selection should act more strongly to bias codon usage and reduce silent divergence in constitutive than in alternative exons. By controlling for regional forces affecting base-composition evolution, this within-gene comparison makes it possible to detect codon selection at synonymous sites in mammals. We found that GC-ending codons are more abundant in constitutive than alternatively spliced exons in both Drosophila and humans. Contrary to our expectation, however, silent DNA divergence between mammalian species is higher in constitutive than in alternative exons.

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