, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 53-62

Amino acid composition and the evolutionary rates of protein-coding genes

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Summary

Based on the rates of amino acid substitution for 60 mammalian genes of 50 codons or more, it is shown that the rate of amino acid substitution of a protein is correlated with its amino acid composition. In particular, the content of glycine residues is negatively correlated with the rate of amino acid substitution, and this content alone explains about 38% of the total variation in amino acid substitution rates among different protein families. The propensity of a polypeptide to evolve fast or slowly may be predicted from an index or indices of protein mutability directly derivable from the amino acid composition. The propensity of an amino acid to remain conserved during evolutionary times depends not so much on its being features prominently in active sites, but on its stability index, defined as the mean chemical distance [R. Grantham (1974) Science 185∶862–864] between the amino acid and its mutational derivatives produced by single-nucleotide substitutions. Functional constraints related to active and binding sites of proteins play only a minor role in determining the overall rate of amino acid substitution. The importance of amino acid composition in determining rates of substitution is illustrated with examples involving cytochrome c, cytochrome b5,ras-related genes, the calmodulin protein family, and fibrinopeptides.