Splicing and the evolution of proteins in mammals

J L Parmley, A O Urrutia, L Potrzebowski, H Kaessmann, L D Hurst

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81 Citations (SciVal)


It is often supposed that a protein's rate of evolution and its amino acid content are determined by the function and anatomy of the protein. Here we examine an alternative possibility, namely that the requirement to specify in the ;unprocessed RNA, in the vicinity of intron-exon boundaries, information necessary for removal of introns (e.g., exonic splice enhancers) affects both amino acid usage and rates of protein evolution. We find that the majority of amino acids show skewed usage near intron-exon boundaries, and that differences in the trends for the 2-fold and 4-fold blocks of both arginine and leucine show this to be owing to effects mediated at the nucleotide level. More specifically, there is a robust relationship between the extent to which an amino acid is preferred/ avoided near boundaries and its enrichment/paucity in splice enhancers. As might then be expected, the rate of evolution is lowest near intron-exon boundaries, at least in part owing to splice enhancers, such that domains flanking intron-exon junctions evolve on average at under half the rate of exon centres from the same gene. In contrast, the rate of evolution of intronless retrogenes is highest near the domains where intron-exon junctions previously resided. The proportion of sequence near intron-exon boundaries is one of the stronger predictors of a protein's rate of evolution in mammals yet described. We conclude that after intron insertion selection favours modification of amino acid content near intron exon junctions, so as to enable efficient intron removal, these changes then being subject to strong purifying selection even if nonoptimal for protein function. Thus there exists a strong force operating on protein evolution in mammals that is not explained directly in terms of the biology of the protein.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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