A compositional segmentation of the human mitochondrial genome is related to heterogeneities in the guanine mutation rate

Nucleic Acids Res. 2003 Oct 15;31(20):6043-52. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkg784.


We applied a hidden Markov model segmentation method to the human mitochondrial genome to identify patterns in the sequence, to compare these patterns to the gene structure of mtDNA and to see whether these patterns reveal additional characteristics important for our understanding of genome evolution, structure and function. Our analysis identified three segmentation categories based upon the sequence transition probabilities. Category 2 segments corresponded to the tRNA and rRNA genes, with a greater strand-symmetry in these segments. Category 1 and 3 segments covered the protein- coding genes and almost all of the non-coding D-loop. Compared to category 1, the mtDNA segments assigned to category 3 had much lower guanine abundance. A comparison to two independent databases of mitochondrial mutations and polymorphisms showed that the high substitution rate of guanine in human mtDNA is largest in the category 3 segments. Analysis of synonymous mutations showed the same pattern. This suggests that this heterogeneity in the mutation rate is partly independent of respiratory chain function and is a direct property of the genome sequence itself. This has important implications for our understanding of mtDNA evolution and its use as a 'molecular clock' to determine the rate of population and species divergence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Heterogeneity
  • Genetic Variation
  • Guanosine Triphosphate / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Probability
  • Time Factors


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Guanosine Triphosphate