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Mol Biol Evol. 2006 Jun;23(6):1119-28. Epub 2006 Mar 6.

Low rates of expression profile divergence in highly expressed genes and tissue-specific genes during mammalian evolution.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, USA.


Evolutionary rates provide important information about the pattern and mechanism of evolution. Although the rate of gene sequence evolution has been well studied, the rate of gene expression evolution is poorly understood. In particular, it is unclear whether the gene expression level and tissue specificity influence the divergence of expression profiles between orthologous genes. Here we address this question using a microarray data set comprising the expression signals of 10,607 pairs of orthologous human and mouse genes from over 60 tissues per species. We show that the level of gene expression and the degree of tissue specificity are generally conserved between the human and mouse orthologs. The rate of gene expression profile change during evolution is negatively correlated with the level of gene expression, measured by either the average or the highest level among all tissues examined. This is analogous to the observation that the rate of gene (or protein) sequence evolution is negatively correlated with the gene expression level. The impacts of the degree of tissue specificity on the evolutionary rate of gene sequence and that of expression profile, however, are opposite. Highly tissue-specific genes tend to evolve rapidly at the gene sequence level but slowly at the expression profile level. Thus, different forces and selective constraints must underlie the evolution of gene sequence and that of gene expression.

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