Mammalian Housekeeping Genes Evolve More Slowly than Tissue-Specific Genes

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Do housekeeping genes, which are turned on most of the time in almost every tissue, evolve more slowly than genes that are turned on only at specific developmental times or tissues? Recent large-scale gene expression studies enable us to have a better definition of housekeeping genes and to address the above question in detail. In this study, we examined 1,581 human-mouse orthologous gene pairs for their patterns of sequence evolution, contrasting housekeeping genes with tissue-specific genes. Our results show that, in comparison to tissue-specific genes, housekeeping genes on average evolve more slowly and are under stronger selective constraints as reflected by significantly smaller values of Ka/Ks. Besides stronger purifying selection, we explored several other factors that can possibly slow down nonsynonymous rates in housekeeping genes. Although mutational bias might slightly slow the nonsynonymous rates in housekeeping genes, it is unlikely to be the major cause of the rate difference between the two types of genes. The codon usage pattern of housekeeping genes does not seem to differ from that of tissue-specific genes. Moreover, contrary to the old textbook concept, we found that ∼74% of the housekeeping genes in our study belong to multigene families, not significantly different from that of the tissue-specific genes (∼70%). Therefore, the stronger selective constraints on housekeeping genes are not due to a lower degree of genetic redundancy.

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