Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Genome Biol Evol. 2009 Sep 22;1:382-90. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evp038.

A universal nonmonotonic relationship between gene compactness and expression levels in multicellular eukaryotes.

Author information

  • 1National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Analysis of gene architecture and expression levels of four organisms, Homo sapiens, Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila melanogaster, and Arabidopsis thaliana, reveals a surprising, nonmonotonic, universal relationship between expression level and gene compactness. With increasing expression level, the genes tend at first to become longer but, from a certain level of expression, they become more and more compact, resulting in an approximate bell-shaped dependence. There are two leading hypotheses to explain the compactness of highly expressed genes. The selection hypothesis predicts that gene compactness is predominantly driven by the level of expression, whereas the genomic design hypothesis predicts that expression breadth across tissues is the driving force. We observed the connection between gene expression breadth in humans and gene compactness to be significantly weaker than the connection between expression level and compactness, a result that is compatible with the selection hypothesis but not the genome design hypothesis. The initial gene elongation with increasing expression level could be explained, at least in part, by accumulation of regulatory elements enhancing expression, in particular, in introns. This explanation is compatible with the observed positive correlation between intron density and expression level of a gene. Conversely, the trend toward increasing compactness for highly expressed genes could be caused by selection for minimization of energy and time expenditure during transcription and splicing and for increased fidelity of transcription, splicing, and/or translation that is likely to be particularly critical for highly expressed genes. Regardless of the exact nature of the forces that shape the gene architecture, we present evidence that, at least, in animals, coding and noncoding parts of genes show similar architectonic trends.


eukaryotic gene architecture; eukaryotic gene structure; genomic design; intron density; intron functionality; selection on gene compactness

Free PMC Article
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk