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J Mol Evol. 1989 Apr;28(4):286-98.

Nucleic acid composition, codon usage, and the rate of synonymous substitution in protein-coding genes.

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Department of Zoology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel.


Based on the rates of synonymous substitution in 42 protein-coding gene pairs from rat and human, a correlation is shown to exist between the frequency of the nucleotides in all positions of the codon and the synonymous substitution rate. The correlation coefficients were positive for A and T and negative for C and G. This means that AT-rich genes accumulate more synonymous substitutions than GC-rich genes. Biased patterns of mutation could not account for this phenomenon. Thus, the variation in synonymous substitution rates and the resulting unequal codon usage must be the consequence of selection against A and T in synonymous positions. Most of the variation in rates of synonymous substitution can be explained by the nucleotide composition in synonymous positions. Codon-anticodon interactions, dinucleotide frequencies, and contextual factors influence neither the rates of synonymous substitution nor codon usage. Interestingly, the nucleotide in the second position of codons (always a nonsynonymous position) was found to affect the rate of synonymous substitution. This finding links the rate of nonsynonymous substitution with the synonymous rate. Consequently, highly conservative proteins are expected to be encoded by genes that evolve slowly in terms of synonymous substitutions, and are consequently highly biased in their codon usage.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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