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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Aug 31;101(35):12957-62. Epub 2004 Aug 23.

Modeling the site-specific variation of selection patterns along lineages.

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Bioinformatics Institute, Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.


The unambiguous footprint of positive Darwinian selection in protein-coding DNA sequences is revealed by an excess of nonsynonymous substitutions over synonymous substitutions compared with the neutral expectation. Methods for analyzing the patterns of nonsynonymous and synonymous substitutions usually rely on stochastic models in which the selection regime may vary across the sequence but remains constant across lineages for any amino acid position. Despite some work that has relaxed the constraint that selection patterns remain constant over time, no model provides a strong statistical framework to deal with switches between selection processes at individual sites during the course of evolution. This paper describes an approach that allows the site-specific selection process to vary along lineages of a phylogenetic tree. The parameters of the switching model of codon substitution are estimated by using maximum likelihood. The analysis of eight HIV-1 env homologous sequence data sets shows that this model provides a significantly better fit to the data than one that does not take into account switches between selection patterns in the phylogeny at individual sites. We also provide strong evidence that the strength and the frequency of occurrence of selection might not be estimated accurately when the site-specific variation of selection regimes is ignored.

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