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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Overlapping genes in the human and mouse genomes

Chaitanya R Sanna1, Wen-Hsiung Li24 and Liqing Zhang13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA

2 Departments of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, Chicago, USA

3 Program in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA

4 Research Center for Biodiversity and Genomics Research Center, Academia Sinica, Taiwan

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:169  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-169

Published: 14 April 2008



Increasing evidence suggests that overlapping genes are much more common in eukaryotic genomes than previously thought. In this study we identified and characterized the overlapping genes in a set of 13,484 pairs of human-mouse orthologous genes.


About 10% of the genes under study are overlapping genes, the majority of which are different-strand overlaps. The majority of the same-strand overlaps are embedded forms, whereas most different-strand overlaps are not embedded and in the convergent transcription orientation. Most of the same-strand overlapping gene pairs show at least a tenfold difference in length, much larger than the length difference between non-overlapping neighboring gene pairs. The length difference between the two different-strand overlapping genes is less dramatic. Over 27% of the different-strand-overlap relationships are shared between human and mouse, compared to only ~8% conservation for same-strand-overlap relationships. More than 96% of the same-strand and different-strand overlaps that are not shared between human and mouse have both genes located on the same chromosomes in the species that does not show the overlap. We examined the causes of transition between the overlapping and non-overlapping states in the two species and found that 3' UTR change plays an important role in the transition.


Our study contributes to the understanding of the evolutionary transition between overlapping genes and non-overlapping genes and demonstrates the high rates of evolutionary changes in the un-translated regions.