Evidence for a selectively favourable reduction in the mutation rate of the X chromosome

Nature. 1997 Mar 27;386(6623):388-92. doi: 10.1038/386388a0.


The equilibrium per-genome mutation rate in sexual species is thought to result from a trade-off between the benefits of reducing the deleterious mutation rate and the costs of increasing fidelity. We propose that selection will often favour a lower mutation rate on the X chromosome than on autosomes, owing to the exposure of deleterious recessive mutations on hemizygous chromosomes. We tested this hypothesis by examining 33 X-linked genes that have been sequenced in both mouse and rat, and compared their rate of evolution against 238 autosomal genes. The X-linked genes were found to have a significantly lower rate of synonymous substitution than the autosomal genes. Neither the supposed higher mutation rate in males nor stronger purifying selection against slightly deleterious mutations on the X chromosome can account for the low value. The most parsimonious explanation is that rodents have a lower mutation rate on the X chromosome than on autosomes. It is therefore likely that previous indirect estimates of the excess male mutation rate are inaccurate. Indeed, after correction we find no evidence for a male-biased mutation rate in rodents. Furthermore, the rate of synonymous substitution in Y-linked genes is not significantly different from that in autosomal ones. The extent to which enhanced male mutation rates are problematic for the mutational deterministic model of the evolution of sex must, in turn, be questioned.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Germ-Line Mutation
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation*
  • Rats
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • X Chromosome*
  • Y Chromosome