"Orphan" retrogenes in the human genome

Mol Biol Evol. 2013 Feb;30(2):384-96. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mss235. Epub 2012 Oct 12.


Gene duplicates generated via retroposition were long thought to be pseudogenized and consequently decayed. However, a significant number of these genes escaped their evolutionary destiny and evolved into functional genes. Despite multiple studies, the number of functional retrogenes in human and other genomes remains unclear. We performed a comparative analysis of human, chicken, and worm genomes to identify "orphan" retrogenes, that is, retrogenes that have replaced their progenitors. We located 25 such candidates in the human genome. All of these genes were previously known, and the majority has been intensively studied. Despite this, they have never been recognized as retrogenes. Analysis revealed that the phenomenon of replacing parental genes with their retrocopies has been taking place over the entire span of animal evolution. This process was often species specific and contributed to interspecies differences. Surprisingly, these retrogenes, which should evolve in a more relaxed mode, are subject to a very strong purifying selection, which is, on average, two and a half times stronger than other human genes. Also, for retrogenes, they do not show a typical overall tendency for a testis-specific expression. Notably, seven of them are associated with human diseases. Recognizing them as "orphan" retrocopies, which have different regulatory machinery than their parents, is important for any disease studies in model organisms, especially when discoveries made in one species are transferred to humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Endosomal Sorting Complexes Required for Transport / chemistry
  • Endosomal Sorting Complexes Required for Transport / genetics
  • Gene Duplication
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Order
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genome, Human*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Paraplegia / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Pseudogenes
  • Retroelements*
  • Sequence Alignment


  • CHMP1B protein, human
  • Endosomal Sorting Complexes Required for Transport
  • MicroRNAs
  • Retroelements

Associated data

  • GENBANK/CR627394