"Silent" Sites in Drosophila Genes Are Not Neutral: Evidence of Selection Among Synonymous Codons

Mol Biol Evol. 1988 Nov;5(6):704-16. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a040525.


The patterns of synonymous codon usage in 91 Drosophila melanogaster genes have been examined. Codon usage varies strikingly among genes. This variation is associated with differences in G+C content at silent sites, but (unlike the situation in mammalian genes) these differences are not correlated with variation in intron base composition and so are not easily explicable in terms of mutational biases. Instead, those genes with high G+C content at silent sites, resulting from a strong "preference" for a particular subset of the codons that are mostly C-ending, appear to be the more highly expressed genes. This suggests that G+C content is reduced in sequences where selective constraints are weaker, as indeed seen in a pseudogene. These and other data discussed are consistent with the effects of translational selection among synonymous codons, as seen in unicellular organisms. The existence of selective constraints on silent substitutions, which may vary in strength among genes, has implications for the use of silent molecular clocks.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Composition
  • Codon*
  • Cytosine / analysis
  • Drosophila melanogaster* / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genes*
  • Guanine / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger*
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • Codon
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Guanine
  • Cytosine