Determinants of the rate of protein sequence evolution

Nat Rev Genet. 2015 Jul;16(7):409-20. doi: 10.1038/nrg3950. Epub 2015 Jun 9.


The rate and mechanism of protein sequence evolution have been central questions in evolutionary biology since the 1960s. Although the rate of protein sequence evolution depends primarily on the level of functional constraint, exactly what determines functional constraint has remained unclear. The increasing availability of genomic data has enabled much needed empirical examinations on the nature of functional constraint. These studies found that the evolutionary rate of a protein is predominantly influenced by its expression level rather than functional importance. A combination of theoretical and empirical analyses has identified multiple mechanisms behind these observations and demonstrated a prominent role in protein evolution of selection against errors in molecular and cellular processes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • Proteins / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic / genetics*


  • Proteins
  • DNA