Silent (synonymous) SNPs: should we care about them?

Methods Mol Biol. 2009;578:23-39. doi: 10.1007/978-1-60327-411-1_2.


One of the surprising findings of the Human Genome Project was that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which, by definition, have a minor allele frequency greater than 1%, occur at higher rates than previously suspected. When occurring in the gene coding regions, SNPs can be synonymous (i.e., not causing a change in the amino acid) or nonsynonymous (when the amino acid is altered). It has long been assumed that synonymous SNPs are inconsequential, as the primary sequence of the protein is retained. A number of studies have questioned this assumption over the last decade, showing that synonymous mutations are also under evolutionary pressure and they can be implicated in disease. More importantly, several of the mechanisms by which synonymous mutations alter the structure, function, and expression level of proteins are now being elucidated. Studies have demonstrated that synonymous polymorphisms can affect messenger RNA splicing, stability, and structure as well as protein folding. These changes can have a significant effect on the function of proteins, change cellular response to therapeutic targets, and often explain the different responses of individual patients to a certain medication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*
  • Protein Folding
  • RNA Splicing / genetics
  • RNA Stability / genetics