Nucleotide substitution rate of mammalian mitochondrial genomes

J Mol Evol. 1999 Apr;48(4):427-34. doi: 10.1007/pl00006487.


We present here for the first time a comprehensive study based on the analysis of closely related organisms to provide an accurate determination of the nucleotide substitution rate in mammalian mitochondrial genomes. This study examines the evolutionary pattern of the different functional mtDNA regions as accurately as possible on the grounds of available data, revealing some important "genomic laws." The main conclusions can be summarized as follows. (1) High intragenomic variability in the evolutionary dynamic of mtDNA was found. The substitution rate is strongly dependent on the region considered, and slow- and fast-evolving regions can be identified. Nonsynonymous sites, the D-loop central domain, and tRNA and rRNA genes evolve much more slowly than synonymous sites and the two peripheral D-loop region domains. The synonymous rate is fairly uniform over the genome, whereas the rate of nonsynonymous sites depends on functional constraints and therefore differs considerably between genes. (2) The commonly accepted statement that mtDNA evolves more rapidly than nuclear DNA is valid only for some regions, thus it should be referred to specific mitochondrial components. In particular, nonsynonymous sites show comparable rates in mitochondrial and nuclear genes; synonymous sites and small rRNA evolve about 20 times more rapidly and tRNAs about 100 times more rapidly in mitochondria than in their nuclear counterpart. (3) A species-specific evolution is particularly evident in the D-loop region. As the divergence times of the organism pairs under consideration are known with sufficient accuracy, absolute nucleotide substitution rates are also provided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome*
  • Humans
  • Mammals / genetics*
  • Mutation*
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Transfer