Exponential decay of GC content detected by strand-symmetric substitution rates influences the evolution of isochore structure

J. E. Karro, M. Peifer, R. C. Hardison, M. Kollmann, H. H. Von Grünberg

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17 Scopus citations


The distribution of guanine and cytosine nucleotides throughout a genome, or the GC content, is associated with numerous features in mammals; understanding the pattern and evolutionary history of GC content is crucial to our efforts to annotate the genome. The local GC content is decaying toward an equilibrium point, but the causes and rates of this decay, as well as the value of the equilibrium point, remain topics of debate. By comparing the results of 2 methods for estimating local substitution rates, we identify 620 Mb of the human genome in which the rates of the various types of nucleotide substitutions are the same on both strands. These strand-symmetric regions show an exponential decay of local GC content at a pace determined by local substitution rates. DNA segments subjected to higher rates experience disproportionately accelerated decay and are AT rich, whereas segments subjected to lower rates decay more slowly and are GC rich. Although we are unable to draw any conclusions about causal factors, the results support the hypothesis proposed by Khelifi A, Meunier J, Duret L, and Mouchiroud D (2006. GC content evolution of the human and mouse genomes: insights from the study of processed pseudogenes in regions of different recombination rates. J Mol Evol. 62:745-752.) that the isochore structure has been reshaped over time. If rate variation were a determining factor, then the current isochore structure of mammalian genomes could result from the local differences in substitution rates. We predict that under current conditions strand-symmetric portions of the human genome will stabilize at an average GC content of 30% (considerably less than the current 42%), thus confirming that the human genome has not yet reached equilibrium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)362-374
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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