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1.  Distinct Patterns of Expression and Evolution of Intronless and Intron-Containing Mammalian Genes 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2010;27(8):1745-1749.
Comparison of expression levels and breadth and evolutionary rates of intronless and intron-containing mammalian genes shows that intronless genes are expressed at lower levels, tend to be tissue specific, and evolve significantly faster than spliced genes. By contrast, monomorphic spliced genes that are not subject to detectable alternative splicing and polymorphic alternatively spliced genes show similar statistically indistinguishable patterns of expression and evolution. Alternative splicing is most common in ancient genes, whereas intronless genes appear to have relatively recent origins. These results imply tight coupling between different stages of gene expression, in particular, transcription, splicing, and nucleocytosolic transport of transcripts, and suggest that formation of intronless genes is an important route of evolution of novel tissue-specific functions in animals.
doi:10.1093/molbev/msq086
PMCID: PMC2908711  PMID: 20360214
alternative splicing; intronless genes; monomorphic genes; polymorphic genes; mammalian gene evolution
2.  Widespread Positive Selection in Synonymous Sites of Mammalian Genes 
Molecular biology and evolution  2007;24(8):1821-1831.
Evolution of protein sequences is largely governed by purifying selection, with a small fraction of proteins evolving under positive selection. The evolution at synonymous positions in protein-coding genes is not nearly as well understood, with the extent and types of selection remaining, largely, unclear. A statistical test to identify purifying and positive selection at synonymous sites in protein-coding genes was developed. The method compares the rate of evolution at synonymous sites (Ks) to that in intron sequences of the same gene after sampling the aligned intron sequences to mimic the statistical properties of coding sequences. We detected purifying selection at synonymous sites in ∼28% of the 1,562 analyzed orthologous genes from mouse and rat, and positive selection in ∼12% of the genes. Thus, the fraction of genes with readily detectable positive selection at synonymous sites is much greater than the fraction of genes with comparable positive selection at nonsynonymous sites, i.e., at the level of the protein sequence. Unlike other genes, the genes with positive selection at synonymous sites showed no correlation between Ks and the rate of evolution in nonsynonymous sites (Ka), indicating that evolution of synonymous sites under positive selection is decoupled from protein evolution. The genes with purifying selection at synonymous sites showed significant anticorrelation between Ks and expression level and breadth, indicating that highly expressed genes evolve slowly. The genes with positive selection at synonymous sites showed the opposite trend, i.e., highly expressed genes had, on average, higher Ks. For the genes with positive selection at synonymous sites, a significantly lower mRNA stability is predicted compared to the genes with negative selection. Thus, mRNA destabilization could be an important factor driving positive selection in nonsynonymous sites, probably, through regulation of expression at the level of mRNA degradation and, possibly, also translation rate. So, unexpectedly, we found that positive selection at synonymous sites of mammalian genes is substantially more common than positive selection at the level of protein sequences. Positive selection at synonymous sites might act through mRNA destabilization affecting mRNA levels and translation.
doi:10.1093/molbev/msm100
PMCID: PMC2632937  PMID: 17522087
synonymous sites; nonsynonymous sites; positive selection; purifying selection; introns
3.  Comparative analysis of orthologous eukaryotic mRNAs: potential hidden functional signals 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(5):1774-1782.
Sequencing of multiple, nearly complete eukaryotic genomes creates opportunities for detecting previously unnoticed, subtle functional signals in non-coding regions. A genome-wide comparative analysis of orthologous sets of mammalian and yeast mRNAs revealed distinct patterns of evolutionary conservation at the boundaries of the untranslated regions (UTRs) and the coding region (CDS). Elevated sequence conservation was detected in ∼30 nt regions around the start codon. There seems to be a complementary relationship between sequence conservation in the ∼30 nt regions of the 5′-UTR immediately upstream of the start codon and that in the synonymous positions of the 5′-terminal 30 nt of the CDS: in mammalian mRNAs, the 5′-UTR shows a greater conservation than the CDS, whereas the opposite trend holds for yeast mRNAs. Unexpectedly, a ∼30 nt region downstream of the stop codon shows a substantially lower level of sequence conservation than the downstream portions of the 3′-UTRs. However, the sequence in this poorly conserved 30 nt portion of the 3′-UTR is non-random in that it has a higher GC content than the rest of the UTR. It is hypothesized that the elevated sequence conservation in the region immediately upstream of the start codon is related to the requirement for initiation factor binding during pre-initiation ribosomal scanning. In contrast, the poorly conserved region downstream of the stop codon could be involved in the post- termination scanning and dissociation of the ribosomes from the mRNA, which requires only the mRNA–ribosome interaction. Additionally, it was found that the choice of the stop codon in mammals, but not in yeasts, and the context in the immediate vicinity of the stop codons in both mammals and yeasts are subject to strong selection. Thus, genome-wide analysis of orthologous gene sets allows detection of previously unrecognized patterns of sequence conservation, which are likely to reflect hidden functional signals, such as ribosomal filters that could regulate translation by modulating the interaction between the mRNA and ribosomes.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkh313
PMCID: PMC390323  PMID: 15031317

Results 1-3 (3)