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2.  Evolutionary conservation suggests a regulatory function of AUG triplets in 5′-UTRs of eukaryotic genes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(17):5512-5520.
By comparing sequences of human, mouse and rat orthologous genes, we show that in 5′-untranslated regions (5′-UTRs) of mammalian cDNAs but not in 3′-UTRs or coding sequences, AUG is conserved to a significantly greater extent than any of the other 63 nt triplets. This effect is likely to reflect, primarily, bona fide evolutionary conservation, rather than cDNA annotation artifacts, because the excess of conserved upstream AUGs (uAUGs) is seen in 5′-UTRs containing stop codons in-frame with the start AUG and many of the conserved AUGs are found in different frames, consistent with the location in authentic non-coding sequences. Altogether, conserved uAUGs are present in at least 20–30% of mammalian genes. Qualitatively similar results were obtained by comparison of orthologous genes from different species of the yeast genus Saccharomyces. Together with the observation that mammalian and yeast 5′-UTRs are significantly depleted in overall AUG content, these findings suggest that AUG triplets in 5′-UTRs are subject to the pressure of purifying selection in two opposite directions: the uAUGs that have no specific function tend to be deleterious and get eliminated during evolution, whereas those uAUGs that do serve a function are conserved. Most probably, the principal role of the conserved uAUGs is attenuation of translation at the initiation stage, which is often additionally regulated by alternative splicing in the mammalian 5′-UTRs. Consistent with this hypothesis, we found that open reading frames starting from conserved uAUGs are significantly shorter than those starting from non-conserved uAUGs, possibly, owing to selection for optimization of the level of attenuation.
doi:10.1093/nar/gki847
PMCID: PMC1236974  PMID: 16186132
3.  Conservation versus parallel gains in intron evolution 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(6):1741-1748.
Orthologous genes from distant eukaryotic species, e.g. animals and plants, share up to 25–30% intron positions. However, the relative contributions of evolutionary conservation and parallel gain of new introns into this pattern remain unknown. Here, the extent of independent insertion of introns in the same sites (parallel gain) in orthologous genes from phylogenetically distant eukaryotes is assessed within the framework of the protosplice site model. It is shown that protosplice sites are no more conserved during evolution of eukaryotic gene sequences than random sites. Simulation of intron insertion into protosplice sites with the observed protosplice site frequencies and intron densities shows that parallel gain can account but for a small fraction (5–10%) of shared intron positions in distantly related species. Thus, the presence of numerous introns in the same positions in orthologous genes from distant eukaryotes, such as animals, fungi and plants, appears to reflect mostly bona fide evolutionary conservation.
doi:10.1093/nar/gki316
PMCID: PMC1069513  PMID: 15788746
4.  Prevalence of intron gain over intron loss in the evolution of paralogous gene families 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(12):3724-3733.
The mechanisms and evolutionary dynamics of intron insertion and loss in eukaryotic genes remain poorly understood. Reconstruction of parsimonious scenarios of gene structure evolution in paralogous gene families in animals and plants revealed numerous gains and losses of introns. In all analyzed lineages, the number of acquired new introns was substantially greater than the number of lost ancestral introns. This trend held even for lineages in which vertical evolution of genes involved more intron losses than gains, suggesting that gene duplication boosts intron insertion. However, dating gene duplications and the associated intron gains and losses based on the molecular clock assumption showed that very few, if any, introns were gained during the last ∼100 million years of animal and plant evolution, in agreement with previous conclusions reached through analysis of orthologous gene sets. These results are generally compatible with the emerging notion of intensive insertion and loss of introns during transitional epochs in contrast to the relative quiet of the intervening evolutionary spans.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkh686
PMCID: PMC484173  PMID: 15254274

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