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Open Access Research article

Relative effects of mutability and selection on single nucleotide polymorphisms in transcribed regions of the human genome

Ivan P Gorlov*, Olga Y Gorlova and Christopher I Amos

Author Affiliations

Department of Epidemiology, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:292  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-292

Published: 17 June 2008



Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are the most common type of genetic variation in humans. However, the factors that affect SNP density are poorly understood. The goal of this study was to estimate the relative effects of mutability and selection on SNP density in transcribed regions of human genes. It is important for prediction of the regions that harbor functional polymorphisms.


We used frequency-validated SNPs resulting from single-nucleotide substitutions. SNPs were subdivided into five functional categories: (i) 5' untranslated region (UTR) SNPs, (ii) 3' UTR SNPs, (iii) synonymous SNPs, (iv) SNPs producing conservative missense mutations, and (v) SNPs producing radical missense mutations. Each of these categories was further subdivided into nine mutational categories on the basis of the single-nucleotide substitution type. Thus, 45 functional/mutational categories were analyzed. The relative mutation rate in each mutational category was estimated on the basis of published data. The proportion of segregating sites (PSSs) for each functional/mutational category was estimated by dividing the observed number of SNPs by the number of potential sites in the genome for a given functional/mutational category. By analyzing each functional group separately, we found significant positive correlations between PSSs and relative mutation rates (Spearman's correlation coefficient, at least r = 0.96, df = 9, P < 0.001). We adjusted the PSSs for the mutation rate and found that the functional category had a significant effect on SNP density (F = 5.9, df = 4, P = 0.001), suggesting that selection affects SNP density in transcribed regions of the genome. We used analyses of variance and covariance to estimate the relative effects of selection (functional category) and mutability (relative mutation rate) on the PSSs and found that approximately 87% of variation in PSS was due to variation in the mutation rate and approximately 13% was due to selection, suggesting that the probability that a site located in a transcribed region of a gene is polymorphic mostly depends on the mutability of the site.