Mutations of different molecular origins exhibit contrasting patterns of regional substitution rate variation

PLoS Comput Biol. 2008 Feb 29;4(2):e1000015. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000015.


Transitions at CpG dinucleotides, referred to as "CpG substitutions", are a major mutational input into vertebrate genomes and a leading cause of human genetic disease. The prevalence of CpG substitutions is due to their mutational origin, which is dependent on DNA methylation. In comparison, other single nucleotide substitutions (for example those occurring at GpC dinucleotides) mainly arise from errors during DNA replication. Here we analyzed high quality BAC-based data from human, chimpanzee, and baboon to investigate regional variation of CpG substitution rates. We show that CpG substitutions occur approximately 15 times more frequently than other single nucleotide substitutions in primate genomes, and that they exhibit substantial regional variation. Patterns of CpG rate variation are consistent with differences in methylation level and susceptibility to subsequent deamination. In particular, we propose a "distance-decaying" hypothesis, positing that due to the molecular mechanism of a CpG substitution, rates are correlated with the stability of double-stranded DNA surrounding each CpG dinucleotide, and the effect of local DNA stability may decrease with distance from the CpG dinucleotide.Consistent with our "distance-decaying" hypothesis, rates of CpG substitution are strongly (negatively) correlated with regional G+C content. The influence of G+C content decays as the distance from the target CpG site increases. We estimate that the influence of local G+C content extends up to 1,500 approximately 2,000 bps centered on each CpG site. We also show that the distance-decaying relationship persisted when we controlled for the effect of long-range homogeneity of nucleotide composition. GpC sites, in contrast, do not exhibit such "distance-decaying" relationship. Our results highlight an example of the distinctive properties of methylation-dependent substitutions versus substitutions mostly arising from errors during DNA replication. Furthermore, the negative relationship between G+C content and CpG rates may provide an explanation for the observation that GC-rich SINEs show lower CpG rates than other repetitive elements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Chromosome Mapping / methods*
  • Computer Simulation
  • CpG Islands / genetics*
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA Mutational Analysis / methods*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*


  • DNA