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Nucleic Acids Res. 2006 Mar 23;34(6):1700-10. Print 2006.

Regions of extreme synonymous codon selection in mammalian genes.

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  • 1Department of Biomolecular Engineering, University of California Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA.


Recently there has been increasing evidence that purifying selection occurs among synonymous codons in mammalian genes. This selection appears to be a consequence of either cis-regulatory motifs, such as exonic splicing enhancers (ESEs), or mRNA secondary structures, being superimposed on the coding sequence of the gene. We have developed a program to identify regions likely to be enriched for such motifs by searching for extended regions of extreme codon conservation between homologous genes of related species. Here we present the results of applying this approach to five mammalian species (human, chimpanzee, mouse, rat and dog). Even with very conservative selection criteria, we find over 200 regions of extreme codon conservation, ranging in length from 60 to 178 codons. The regions are often found within genes involved in DNA-binding, RNA-binding or zinc-ion-binding. They are highly depleted for synonymous single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) but not for non-synonymous SNPs, further indicating that the observed codon conservation is being driven by negative selection. Forty-three percent of the regions overlap conserved alternative transcript isoforms and are enriched for known ESEs. Other regions are enriched for TpA dinucleotides and may contain conserved motifs/structures relating to mRNA stability and/or degradation. We anticipate that this tool will be useful for detecting regions enriched in other classes of coding-sequence motifs and structures as well.

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