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Genome Res. 2010 Jul;20(7):875-82. doi: 10.1101/gr.103283.109. Epub 2010 May 24.

The mutational spectrum of non-CpG DNA varies with CpG content.

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Section on Genomic Structure and Function, Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-0830, USA.


The accumulation of base substitutions (mutations) not subject to natural selection is the neutral mutation rate. Because this rate reflects the in vivo processes involved in maintaining the integrity of genetic information, the factors that affect the neutral mutation rate are of considerable interest. Mammals exhibit two dramatically different neutral mutation rates: the CpG mutation rate, wherein the C of most CpGs (i.e., methyl-CpG) mutate at 10-50 times that of C in any other context or of any other base. The latter mutations constitute the non-CpG rate. The high CpG rate results from the spontaneous deamination of methyl-C to T and incomplete restoration of the ensuing T:G mismatches to C:Gs. Here, we determined the neutral non-CpG mutation rate as a function of CpG content by comparing sequence divergence of thousands of pairs of neutrally evolving chimpanzee and human orthologs that differ primarily in CpG content. Both the mutation rate and the mutational spectrum (transition/transversion ratio) of non-CpG residues change in parallel as sigmoidal (logistic) functions of CpG content. As different mechanisms generate transitions and transversions, these results indicate that both mutation rate and mutational processes are contingent on the local CpG content. We consider several possible mechanisms that might explain how CpG exerts these effects.

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