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Nucleic Acids Res. 2012 Dec;40(22):11463-76. doi: 10.1093/nar/gks905. Epub 2012 Oct 5.

Hundreds of conserved non-coding genomic regions are independently lost in mammals.

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Department of Developmental Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Conserved non-protein-coding DNA elements (CNEs) often encode cis-regulatory elements and are rarely lost during evolution. However, CNE losses that do occur can be associated with phenotypic changes, exemplified by pelvic spine loss in sticklebacks. Using a computational strategy to detect complete loss of CNEs in mammalian genomes while strictly controlling for artifacts, we find >600 CNEs that are independently lost in at least two mammalian lineages, including a spinal cord enhancer near GDF11. We observed several genomic regions where multiple independent CNE loss events happened; the most extreme is the DIAPH2 locus. We show that CNE losses often involve deletions and that CNE loss frequencies are non-uniform. Similar to less pleiotropic enhancers, we find that independently lost CNEs are shorter, slightly less constrained and evolutionarily younger than CNEs without detected losses. This suggests that independently lost CNEs are less pleiotropic and that pleiotropic constraints contribute to non-uniform CNE loss frequencies. We also detected 35 CNEs that are independently lost in the human lineage and in other mammals. Our study uncovers an interesting aspect of the evolution of functional DNA in mammalian genomes. Experiments are necessary to test if these independently lost CNEs are associated with parallel phenotype changes in mammals.

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