Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 483–494 | Cite as

Evidence for selective evolution in codon usage in conserved amino acid segments of human alphaherpesvirus proteins

  • Gabriel A. Schachtel
  • Philipp Bucher
  • Edward S. Mocarski
  • B. Edwin Blaisdell
  • Samuel Karlin


The genomes of human viruses herpes simplex 1 (HSV1) and varicella zoster (VZV), although similar in biology, largely concordant in gene order, and identical in many amino acid segments, differ widely in their genomic G+C (abbreviated S) content, which is high in HSV1 (68%) and low in VZV (46%). This paper analyzes several striking codon usage contrasts. The S difference in coding regions is dramatically large in codon site 3, S3, about 42%. The large difference in S3 is maintained at the same level in a subset of closely similar genes and even in corresponding identical amino acid blocks. A similar difference in S levels in silent site 1 (S1) is found in leucine and arginine. The difference in S3 levels occurs in every gene and in every multicodon amino acid form. The S difference also exists in amino acid usage, with HSV1 using significantly more codon types SSN, while VZV uses more codon types WWN (where W stands for A or T). The nonoverlapping and narrow histograms of S3 gene frequencies in both viruses suggest that the difference has arisen and been maintained by a process of selective rather than nonselective effects. This is in sharp contrast to the relatively large variance seen for highly similar genes in the human versus yeast analysis. Interpretations and hypotheses to explain the HSV1 vs VZV condon usage disparity relate to virus-host interactions, to the role of viral genes in DNA metabolism, to availability of molecular resources (molecular Gause exclusion principle), and to differences in genomic structure.

Key words

Codon usage Alphaherpesviruses Amino acid conservation G+C frequencies Selective vs nonselective forces 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriel A. Schachtel
    • 1
  • Philipp Bucher
    • 1
  • Edward S. Mocarski
    • 2
  • B. Edwin Blaisdell
    • 1
  • Samuel Karlin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MathematicsStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Microbiology and ImmunologyStanford University Medical CenterStanfordUSA

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