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Genome Res. 2010 Jun;20(6):745-54. doi: 10.1101/gr.101261.109. Epub 2010 Mar 24.

Natural selection drives the accumulation of amino acid tandem repeats in human proteins.

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  • 1Biomedical Informatics Research Programme (GRIB), Fundació Institut Municipal d'Investigació Mèdica, Barcelona 08003, Spain.


Amino acid tandem repeats are found in a large number of eukaryotic proteins. They are often encoded by trinucleotide repeats and exhibit high intra- and interspecies size variability due to the high mutation rate associated with replication slippage. The extent to which natural selection is important in shaping amino acid repeat evolution is a matter of debate. On one hand, their high frequency may simply reflect their high probability of expansion by slippage, and they could essentially evolve in a neutral manner. On the other hand, there is experimental evidence that changes in repeat size can influence protein-protein interactions, transcriptional activity, or protein subcellular localization, indicating that repeats could be functionally relevant and thus shaped by selection. To gauge the relative contribution of neutral and selective forces in amino acid repeat evolution, we have performed a comparative analysis of amino acid repeat conservation in a large set of orthologous proteins from 12 vertebrate species. As a neutral model of repeat evolution we have used sequences with the same DNA triplet composition as the coding sequences--and thus expected to be subject to the same mutational forces--but located in syntenic noncoding genomic regions. The results strongly indicate that selection has played a more important role than previously suspected in amino acid tandem repeat evolution, by increasing the repeat retention rate and by modulating repeat size. The data obtained in this study have allowed us to identify a set of 92 repeats that are postulated to play important functional roles due to their strong selective signature, including five cases with direct experimental evidence.

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