Selection on synonymous codons in mammalian rhodopsins: a possible role in optimizing translational processesReport as inadecuate

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BMC Evolutionary Biology

, 14:96

Genome evolution and evolutionary systems biology


BackgroundSynonymous codon usage can affect many cellular processes, particularly those associated with translation such as polypeptide elongation and folding, mRNA degradation-stability, and splicing. Highly expressed genes are thought to experience stronger selection pressures on synonymous codons. This should result in codon usage bias even in species with relatively low effective population sizes, like mammals, where synonymous site selection is thought to be weak. Here we use phylogenetic codon-based likelihood models to explore patterns of codon usage bias in a dataset of 18 mammalian rhodopsin sequences, the protein mediating the first step in vision in the eye, and one of the most highly expressed genes in vertebrates. We use these patterns to infer selection pressures on key translational mechanisms including polypeptide elongation, protein folding, mRNA stability, and splicing.

ResultsOverall, patterns of selection in mammalian rhodopsin appear to be correlated with post-transcriptional and translational processes. We found significant evidence for selection at synonymous sites using phylogenetic mutation-selection likelihood models, with C-ending codons found to have the highest relative fitness, and to be significantly more abundant at conserved sites. In general, these codons corresponded with the most abundant tRNAs in mammals. We found significant differences in codon usage bias between rhodopsin loops versus helices, though there was no significant difference in mean synonymous substitution rate between these motifs. We also found a significantly higher proportion of GC-ending codons at paired sites in rhodopsin mRNA secondary structure, and significantly lower synonymous mutation rates in putative exonic splicing enhancer ESE regions than in non-ESE regions.

ConclusionsBy focusing on a single highly expressed gene we both distinguish synonymous codon selection from mutational effects and analytically explore underlying functional mechanisms. Our results suggest that codon bias in mammalian rhodopsin arises from selection to optimally balance high overall translational speed, accuracy, and proper protein folding, especially in structurally complicated regions. Selection at synonymous sites may also be contributing to mRNA stability and splicing efficiency at exonic-splicing-enhancer ESE regions. Our results highlight the importance of investigating highly expressed genes in a broader phylogenetic context in order to better understand the evolution of synonymous substitutions.

KeywordsMutation-selection model dN-dS Codon-based likelihood models Visual pigment evolution Electronic supplementary materialThe online version of this article doi:10.1186-1471-2148-14-96 contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Author: Jingjing Du - Sarah Z Dungan - Amir Sabouhanian - Belinda SW Chang



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