Partitioning of genetic variation between regulatory and coding gene segments: the predominance of software variation in genes encoding introvert proteins
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- Mitchison, A. Immunogenetics (1997) 46: 46. doi:10.1007/s002510050241
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In considering genetic variation in eukaryotes, a fundamental distinction can be made between variation in regulatory (software) and coding (hardware) gene segments. For quantitative traits the bulk of variation, particularly that near the population mean, appears to reside in regulatory segments. The main exceptions to this rule concern proteins which handle extrinsic substances, here termed extrovert proteins. The immune system includes an unsually large proportion of this exceptional category, but even so its chief source of variation may well be polymorphism in regulatory gene segments. The main evidence for this view emerges from genome scanning for quantitative trait loci (QTL), which in the case of the immune system points to a major contribution of pro-inflammatory cytokine genes. Further support comes from sequencing of major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) class II promoters, where a high level of polymorphism has been detected. These Mhc promoters appear to act, in part at least, by gating the back-signal from T cells into antigen-presenting cells. Both these forms of polymorphism are likely to be sustained by the need for flexibility in the immune response. Future work on promoter polymorphism is likely to benefit from the input from genome informatics.