Premature termination codons (PTCs) cause mRNA degradation or a truncated protein and thereby contribute to the transcriptome and proteome divergence between species. Here we present the first genome-wide study of PTCs in the chimpanzee. By comparing the human and chimpanzee genome sequences we identify and characterize genes with PTCs, in order to understand the contribution of these mutations to the transcriptome diversity between the species.
We have studied a total of 13,487 human-chimpanzee gene pairs and found that ~8% were affected by PTCs in the chimpanzee. A majority (764/1,109) of PTCs were caused by insertions or deletions and the remaining part was caused by substitutions. The distribution of PTC genes varied between chromosomes, with Y having the highest proportion. Furthermore, the density of PTC genes varied on a megabasepair scale within chromosomes and we found the density to be correlated both with indel divergence and proximity to the telomere. Within genes, PTCs were more common close to the 5' and 3' ends of the amino acid sequence. Gene Ontology classification revealed that olfactory receptor genes were over represented among the PTC genes.
Our results showed that the density of PTC genes fluctuated across the genome depending on the local genomic context. PTCs were preferentially located in the terminal parts of the transcript, which generally have a lower frequency of functional domains, indicating that selection was operating against PTCs at sites central to protein function. The enrichment of GO terms associated with olfaction suggests that PTCs may have influenced the difference in the repertoire of olfactory genes between humans and chimpanzees. In summary, 8% of the chimpanzee genes were affected by PTCs and this type of variation is likely to have an important effect on the transcript and proteomic divergence between humans and chimpanzees.