Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Rates of evolution in brain-expressed genes

The discussion section of this paper does a good job of presenting different and interesting ways of interpreting what they find - why human brain-expressed genes have evolved slowly.

Rate of Evolution in Brain-Expressed Genes in Humans and Other Primates

Hurng-Yi Wang, Huan-Chieh Chien, Naoki Osada, Katsuyuki Hashimoto, Sumio Sugano, Takashi Gojobori, Chen-Kung Chou, Shih-Feng Tsai, Chung-I Wu, C.-K. James Shen

PLoS Biology 5(2): e13

Abstract: Brain-expressed genes are known to evolve slowly in mammals. Nevertheless, since brains of higher primates have evolved rapidly, one might expect acceleration in DNA sequence evolution in their brain-expressed genes. In this study, we carried out full-length cDNA sequencing on the brain transcriptome of an Old World monkey (OWM) and then conducted three-way comparisons among (i) mouse, OWM, and human, and (ii) OWM, chimpanzee, and human. Although brain-expressed genes indeed appear to evolve more rapidly in species with more advanced brains (apes > OWM > mouse), a similar lineage effect is observable for most other genes. The broad inclusion of genes in the reference set to represent the genomic average is therefore critical to this type of analysis. Calibrated against the genomic average, the rate of evolution among brain-expressed genes is probably lower (or at most equal) in humans than in chimpanzee and OWM. Interestingly, the trend of slow evolution in coding sequence is no less pronounced among brain-specific genes, vis-à-vis brain-expressed genes in general. The human brain may thus differ from those of our close relatives in two opposite directions: (i) faster evolution in gene expression, and (ii) a likely slowdown in the evolution of protein sequences. Possible explanations and hypotheses are discussed.

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