Estimating the influence of selection on the variable amino acid sites of the cytochrome b protein functional domains

D. A. McClellan, K. G. McCracken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


We evaluated the effects of selection on the molecular evolution of the functional domains of the mammalian cytochrome b gene as it relates to physicochemical properties shown to correlate with rates of amino acid replacement. Two groups of mammals were considered: pocket gophers of the rodent family Geomyidae, and cetaceans and ungulates of the monophyletic taxon Cetartiodactyla. Several characteristics of cytochrome b evolution were common to both mammal groups. The evolution of the matrix domain reflected the region's relative lack of function. Goodness of fit to neutral expectations indicated that external influences have had very little effect on the evolution of the matrix, although in some cases conservative and moderate changes have been favored. Although rates of synonymous nucleotide substitution have been relatively high, the transmembrane domain exhibited poor goodness of fit to neutral expectations. However, the evolution of the transmembrane domain has been constrained by negative selection, allowing a preponderance of conservative and moderate amino acid replacements. We hypothesize that a high rate of substitution is maintained in spite of negative selection because the codons of the transmembrane coding region are predisposed to conservative changes in all amino acid properties. The evolutionary patterns of the intermembrane domain in pocket gophers and cetartiodactyls, however, were very different. Changes inferred from the pocket gopher phylogenetic tree exhibited a significant fit to neutral expectations for each of the amino acid properties. Changes inferred from the cetartiodactyl tree exhibited significant fit to neutral expectations for polarity and isoelectric point, but not for composition, molecular volume, polar requirement, or hydropathy. In each case, lack of fit was due to selection that promoted conservative or moderate change, with the noteworthy exception of polar requirement. We detected an unexpectedly large change in polar requirement (from aspartic acid to threonine) in two separate lineages (Camelus bactrianus and all cetaceans) at amino acid position 159. This inferred change occurred in a region of the cyt-b protein that directly interacts with external surface proteins of the cytochrome bc1 complex and resulted in a reversion to a more common character state in vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)917-925
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Amino acid replacement
  • Cetartiodactyla
  • Codon composition
  • Cytochrome b functional domains
  • Geomyidae
  • Physicochemical properties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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