Rates of conservative and radical nonsynonymous nucleotide substitutions in mammalian nuclear genes

J Mol Evol. 2000 Jan;50(1):56-68. doi: 10.1007/s002399910007.


To understand the process and mechanism of protein evolution, it is important to know what types of amino acid substitutions are more likely to be under selection and what types are mostly neutral. An amino acid substitution can be classified as either conservative or radical, depending on whether it involves a change in a certain physicochemical property of the amino acid. Assuming Kimura's two-parameter model of nucleotide substitution, I present a method for computing the numbers of conservative and radical nonsynonymous (amino acid altering) nucleotide substitutions per site and estimate these rates for 47 nuclear genes from mammals. The results are as follows. (1) The average radical/conservative rate ratio is 0.81 for charge changes, 0.85 for polarity changes, and 0.49 when both polarity and volume changes are considered. (2) The radical/conservative rate ratio is positively correlated with the nonsynonymous/synonymous rate ratio for charge changes or when both polarity and volume changes are considered. (3) Both the conservative/synonymous rate ratio and the radical/synonymous rate ratio are lower in the rodent lineage than in the primate or artiodactyl lineage, suggesting more intense purifying selection in the rodent lineage, for both conservative and radical nonsynonymous substitutions. (4) Neglecting transition/transversion bias would cause an underestimation of both radical and conservative rates and the ratio thereof. (5) Transversions induce more dramatic genetic alternations than transitions in that transversions produce more amino acid altering changes and among which, more radical changes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Amino Acids / classification
  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • Animals
  • Artiodactyla / genetics
  • Genetic Variation
  • Mammals / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics*
  • Nucleotides / genetics
  • Primates / genetics
  • Rodentia / genetics


  • Amino Acids
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Nucleotides