Background: The role that chromosomal rearrangements might have played in the speciation processes that have separated the lineages of humans and chimpanzees has recently come into the spotlight. To date, however, results are contradictory. Here we revisit this issue by making use of the available human and chimpanzee genome sequence to study the relationship between chromosomal rearrangements and rates of DNA sequence evolution.
Results: Contrary to previous findings for this pair of species, we show that genes located in the rearranged chromosomes that differentiate the genomes of humans and chimpanzees, especially genes within rearrangements themselves, present lower divergence than genes elsewhere in the genome. Still, there are considerable differences between individual chromosomes. Chromosome 4, in particular, presents higher divergence in genes located within its rearrangement.
Conclusion: A first conclusion of our analysis is that divergence is lower for genes located in rearranged chromosomes than for those in colinear chromosomes. We also report that non-coding regions within rearranged regions tend to have lower divergence than non-coding regions outside them. These results suggest an association between chromosomal rearrangements and lower non-coding divergence that has not been reported before, even if some chromosomes do not follow this trend and could be potentially associated with a speciation episode. In summary, without excluding it, our results suggest that chromosomal speciation has not been common along the human and chimpanzee lineage.