Nonrandom Intragenic Variations in Patterns of Codon Bias Implicate a Sequential Interplay between Transitional Genetic Drift and Functional Amino Acid Selection

K. Lin, S. B. Tan, P. R. Kolatkar, R. J. Epstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Citations (Scopus)


Although most codon third bases appear to be functionless, the synonymous codons so defined exhibit a strikingly nonrandom distribution (codon bias) within human and other genes. To examine this phenomenon further, we generated a database of DNA sequences encoding human transmembrane cell-surface receptor proteins. Using this database we show here that the guanine and cytosine content of codon third bases (GC3) varies intragenically with the nature of the specified receptor domains (transmembrane > extracellular > intracellular domains; p < 0.001), the phenotype of the encoded amino acids (hydrophobic > hydrophilic > neutral amino acids; p < 0.001), and the receptor affiliation of the transmembrane domain superfamily (G-protein-coupled receptors > receptor tyrosine kinases; p < 0.001). Within gene regions specifying transmembrane domains, GC3 declines as domain functionality becomes redundant with increasing hydrophobicity (p < 0.001). Codons containing the second-base cytosine (XCZ, which encodes neutral amino acids) are selectively depleted of third-base adenine content (A3: XCA codons) when encoding transmembrane domain residues, consistent with positive selection for transitional mutation of XCG to XTG (which encodes hydrophobic amino acids) rather than to the synonymous XCA. Supporting this XCG → XTG mechanism of codon bias, the G3:A3 ratio of codons specifying the transmembrane amino acid glycine (GGZ) is intermediate between that of its functional homolog alanine (GCZ) and that of hydrophobic valine (GTZ), even though the C3:T3 ratios are similar. Conversely, nearest-neighbor analysis of third bases 5′ to codons specifying valine and leucine (CTZ) confirms a significant difference in C3:T3 but not G3:A3 ratios (i.e., C3/G1 → T3/G1 > C3/A1; p < 0.001), consistent with the functionally advantageous retention of hydrophobic residues. These data raise the possibility that patterns of intragenic codon bias reflect a balance between negative and positive selection, suggesting in turn that analysis of codon third-base usage may help to predict the functional significance of encoded products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)538-545
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2003



  • Codon genetics
  • Functional genomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

Cite this