A new method for estimating synonymous and nonsynonymous rates of nucleotide substitution considering the relative likelihood of nucleotide and codon changes

Mol Biol Evol. 1985 Mar;2(2):150-74. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a040343.


A new method is proposed for estimating the number of synonymous and nonsynonymous nucleotide substitutions between homologous genes. In this method, a nucleotide site is classified as nondegenerate, twofold degenerate, or fourfold degenerate, depending on how often nucleotide substitutions will result in amino acid replacement; nucleotide changes are classified as either transitional or transversional, and changes between codons are assumed to occur with different probabilities, which are determined by their relative frequencies among more than 3,000 changes in mammalian genes. The method is applied to a large number of mammalian genes. The rate of nonsynonymous substitution is extremely variable among genes; it ranges from 0.004 X 10(-9) (histone H4) to 2.80 X 10(-9) (interferon gamma), with a mean of 0.88 X 10(-9) substitutions per nonsynonymous site per year. The rate of synonymous substitution is also variable among genes; the highest rate is three to four times higher than the lowest one, with a mean of 4.7 X 10(-9) substitutions per synonymous site per year. The rate of nucleotide substitution is lowest at nondegenerate sites (the average being 0.94 X 10(-9), intermediate at twofold degenerate sites (2.26 X 10(-9)). and highest at fourfold degenerate sites (4.2 X 10(-9)). The implication of our results for the mechanisms of DNA evolution and that of the relative likelihood of codon interchanges in parsimonious phylogenetic reconstruction are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biometry
  • Codon / genetics
  • DNA / genetics
  • Genetic Techniques*
  • Humans


  • Codon
  • DNA