Selective Constraints on Coding Sequences of Nervous System Genes Are a Major Determinant of Duplicate Gene Retention in Vertebrates

Mol Biol Evol. 2017 Nov 1;34(11):2773-2791. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msx199.


The evolutionary history of vertebrates is marked by three ancient whole-genome duplications: two successive rounds in the ancestor of vertebrates, and a third one specific to teleost fishes. Biased loss of most duplicates enriched the genome for specific genes, such as slow evolving genes, but this selective retention process is not well understood. To understand what drives the long-term preservation of duplicate genes, we characterized duplicated genes in terms of their expression patterns. We used a new method of expression enrichment analysis, TopAnat, applied to in situ hybridization data from thousands of genes from zebrafish and mouse. We showed that the presence of expression in the nervous system is a good predictor of a higher rate of retention of duplicate genes after whole-genome duplication. Further analyses suggest that purifying selection against the toxic effects of misfolded or misinteracting proteins, which is particularly strong in nonrenewing neural tissues, likely constrains the evolution of coding sequences of nervous system genes, leading indirectly to the preservation of duplicate genes after whole-genome duplication. Whole-genome duplications thus greatly contributed to the expansion of the toolkit of genes available for the evolution of profound novelties of the nervous system at the base of the vertebrate radiation.

Keywords: anatomy; gene expression; neuron; protein interaction; protein misfolding; small-scale duplication; translational accuracy; whole-genome duplication.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Exons
  • Gene Duplication / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Genes, Duplicate
  • Genome / genetics
  • In Situ Hybridization / methods
  • Mice
  • Nervous System
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Vertebrates / genetics
  • Zebrafish / genetics