Phylogenetic network and physicochemical properties of nonsynonymous mutations in the protein-coding genes of human mitochondrial DNA

Mol Biol Evol. 2003 Aug;20(8):1195-210. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msg121. Epub 2003 May 30.


Theories on molecular evolution predict that phylogenetically recent nonsynonymous mutations should contain more non-neutral amino acid replacements than ancient mutations. We analyzed 840 complete coding-region human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences for nonsynonymous mutations and evaluated the mutations in terms of the physicochemical properties of the amino acids involved. We identified 465 distinct missense and 6 nonsense mutations. 48% of the amino acid replacements changed polarity, 26% size, 8% charge, 32% aliphaticity, 13% aromaticity, and 44% hydropathy. The reduced-median networks of the amino acid changes revealed relatively few differences between the major continent-specific haplogroups, but a high variation and highly starlike phylogenies within the haplogroups. Some 56% of the mutations were private, and 25% were homoplasic. Nonconservative changes were more common than expected among the private mutations but less common among the homoplasic mutations. The asymptotic maximum of the number of nonsynonymous mutations in European mtDNA was estimated to be 1,081. The results suggested that amino acid replacements in the periphery of phylogenetic networks are more deleterious than those in the central parts, indicating that purifying selection prevents the fixation of some alleles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • Asia
  • Codon / genetics
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Ethnicity / genetics*
  • Europe
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Haplotypes / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation*
  • Mutation, Missense / genetics
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Racial Groups / genetics*
  • Recombination, Genetic


  • Amino Acids
  • Codon
  • DNA, Mitochondrial