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BMC Genomics. 2009 Apr 3;10:146. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-10-146.

The evolution of isochore patterns in vertebrate genomes.

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  • 1Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Naples, Italy.



Previous work from our laboratory showed that (i) vertebrate genomes are mosaics of isochores, typically megabase-size DNA segments that are fairly homogeneous in base composition; (ii) isochores belong to a small number of families (five in the human genome) characterized by different GC levels; (iii) isochore family patterns are different in fishes/amphibians and mammals/birds, the latter showing GC-rich isochore families that are absent or very scarce in the former; (iv) there are two modes of genome evolution, a conservative one in which isochore patterns basically do not change (e.g., among mammalian orders), and a transitional one, in which they do change (e.g., between amphibians and mammals); and (v) isochores are tightly linked to a number of basic biological properties, such as gene density, gene expression, replication timing and recombination.


The present availability of a number of fully sequenced genomes ranging from fishes to mammals allowed us to carry out investigations that (i) more precisely quantified our previous conclusions; (ii) showed that the different isochore families of vertebrate genomes are largely conserved in GC levels and dinucleotide frequencies, as well as in isochore size; and (iii) isochore family patterns can be either conserved or change within both warm- and cold-blooded vertebrates.


On the basis of the results presented, we propose that (i) the large conservation of GC levels and dinucleotide frequencies may reflect the conservation of chromatin structures; (ii) the conservation of isochore size may be linked to the role played by isochores in chromosome structure and replication; (iii) the formation, the maintainance and the changes of isochore patterns are due to natural selection.

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