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Cancer Res. 2004 Mar 15;64(6):2251-7.

An evolutionary perspective on single-nucleotide polymorphism screening in molecular cancer epidemiology.

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Department of Epidemiology, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Boulevard, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Given that there are millions of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the entire human genome, a major difficulty faced by scientists in planning costly population-based genotyping is to choose target SNPs that are most likely to affect phenotypic functions and ultimately contribute to disease development. Although it is widely accepted that sequences with important functionality tend to be less variable across species because of selective pressure, to what extent evolutionary conservation is mirrored by epidemiological outcome has never been demonstrated. In this study, we surveyed odds ratios detected for 46 SNPs in 39 different cancer-related genes from 166 molecular epidemiological studies. The conservation levels of amino acid that these SNPs affected were calculated as a tolerance index by comparing sequences from different species. Our results provide evidence of a significant relationship between the detected odds ratios associated with cancer risk and the conservation levels of the SNP-affected amino acids (P = 0.002; R(2) = 0.06). Tolerance indices were further calculated for 355 nonsynonymous SNPs identified in 90 human DNA repair genes, of which 103 caused amino acid changes in very conserved positions. Our findings support the concept that SNPs altering the conserved amino acids are more likely to be associated with cancer susceptibility. Using such a molecular evolutionary approach may hold great promise for prioritizing SNPs to be genotyped in future molecular epidemiological studies.

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