Research Article

Molecular evolution of the melanocortin 1-receptor pigmentation gene in rodents

Published: September 03, 2013
Genet. Mol. Res. 12 (3) : 3230-3245 DOI: https://doi.org/10.4238/2013.February.28.24
Cite this Article:
(2013). Molecular evolution of the melanocortin 1-receptor pigmentation gene in rodents. Genet. Mol. Res. 12(3): gmr2251. https://doi.org/10.4238/2013.February.28.24
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Abstract

Adaptive variation in the melanocortin 1-receptor gene (MC1R), a key locus in melanogenesis, has been identified in some species of rodents. However, in others, MC1R has no causative role in pigmentation phenotypes despite their coat color variation. In this study, we characterized the rates and patterns of MC1R nucleotide and amino acid sequence evolution and, particularly, selective pressures in the separated domains of the protein using a comparative analysis of 43 species representing three major lineages of rodents with variable coat colors. We found high amino acid variation (44% of sites) throughout the protein. Most substitutions were observed in extracellular and transmembrane domains; the intracellular segment was conserved across species. Pairwise non-synonymous substitutions did not vary significantly in different domains among the rodent lineages - i.e., variation was not associated with phylogenetic distance. Phylogeny-based likelihood analysis suggested that purifying selection has mostly shaped the evolutionary course of MC1R. However, a high proportion of sites (27%) were under relaxation of functional constraints (ω = 0.38), and four sites (3, 14, 26, and 251) clearly evolved under positive selection (ω ≅ 2.9). Thus, our data indicate a high proportion of sites evolving under relaxed evolutionary constraints, which might indicate the evolvability of the system in the generation of adaptive changes in specific taxa in rodent lineages.

Adaptive variation in the melanocortin 1-receptor gene (MC1R), a key locus in melanogenesis, has been identified in some species of rodents. However, in others, MC1R has no causative role in pigmentation phenotypes despite their coat color variation. In this study, we characterized the rates and patterns of MC1R nucleotide and amino acid sequence evolution and, particularly, selective pressures in the separated domains of the protein using a comparative analysis of 43 species representing three major lineages of rodents with variable coat colors. We found high amino acid variation (44% of sites) throughout the protein. Most substitutions were observed in extracellular and transmembrane domains; the intracellular segment was conserved across species. Pairwise non-synonymous substitutions did not vary significantly in different domains among the rodent lineages - i.e., variation was not associated with phylogenetic distance. Phylogeny-based likelihood analysis suggested that purifying selection has mostly shaped the evolutionary course of MC1R. However, a high proportion of sites (27%) were under relaxation of functional constraints (ω = 0.38), and four sites (3, 14, 26, and 251) clearly evolved under positive selection (ω ≅ 2.9). Thus, our data indicate a high proportion of sites evolving under relaxed evolutionary constraints, which might indicate the evolvability of the system in the generation of adaptive changes in specific taxa in rodent lineages.