Asymmetrical directional mutation pressure in the mitochondrial genome of mammals

Mol Biol Evol. 1998 Aug;15(8):957-66. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a026011.


The base composition of 25 complete mammalian mitochondrial (mt) genomes has been analyzed taking into account all three codon positions (P1230 and fourfold degenerate sites (P4FD) of H-strand genes. In the nontranscribed L strand, G is the less represented base and A is the most represented one in all cases, while C and T differ among species. H-strand protein-coding genes show an asymmetric distribution of the four bases between the two strands. The asymmetry indexes AT and GC skews on P4FD are much higher than those on P123, suggesting the existence of asymmetrical directional mutation pressure. Relationships between the compositional features and transcription of replication processes have been investigated in order to find a possible mechanism that could explain the origin of this asymmetry. AT and GC skews, the base composition in fourfold degenerate sites, and the number of variable sites for each gene are significantly correlated with the duration of single-stranded state of the H-stranded genes during replication. We tested different replication-related hypotheses, such as the existence of biased dNTP pools, gamma DNA polymerase mispairing, and the asymmetric replication itself. Most of them failed to explain the observed results, hydrolytic deaminations being the only one in agreement with our data. Thus, we hypothesize that one of the crucial processes for the origin of asymmetric and biased base composition of mammalian mitochondrial genomes is the spontaneous deamination of C and A in the H strand during replication.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Composition
  • Codon / genetics
  • DNA Polymerase gamma
  • DNA Replication / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / biosynthesis
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / chemistry
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / metabolism
  • Deoxyribonucleotides / metabolism
  • Genome*
  • Humans
  • Mammals / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation*


  • Codon
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Deoxyribonucleotides
  • DNA Polymerase gamma
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase