Positive and negative selection in murine ultra-conserved noncoding elements

Daniel Halligan, Fiona Oliver, Jack Guthrie, Katheryn Stemshorn, Peter Keightley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There are many more selectively constrained noncoding than coding nucleotides in the mammalian genome, but most mammalian noncoding DNA is subject to weak selection, on average. One of the most striking discoveries to have emerged from comparisons among mammalian genomes is the hundreds of noncoding elements of more than 200 bp in length that show absolute conservation among mammalian orders. These elements represent the tip of the iceberg of a much larger class of conserved noncoding elements (CNEs). Much evidence suggests that CNEs are selectively constrained and not mutational cold-spots, and there is evidence that some CNEs play a role in the regulation of development. Here, we quantify negative and positive selection acting in murine CNEs by analyzing within-species nucleotide variation and between-species divergence of CNEs that we identified using a phylogenetically independent comparison. The distribution of fitness effects of new mutations in CNEs, inferred from within-species polymorphism, suggests that CNEs receive a higher number of strongly selected deleterious mutations and many fewer nearly neutral mutations than amino acid sites of protein-coding genes or regulatory elements close to genes. However, we also show that CNEs experience a far higher proportion of adaptive substitutions than any known category of genomic sites in murids. The absolute rate of adaptation of CNEs is similar to that of amino acid sites of proteins. This result suggests that there is widespread adaptation in mammalian conserved noncoding DNA elements, some of which have been implicated in the regulation of crucially important processes, including development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2651-2660
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number9
Early online date8 Apr 2011
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2011


  • Animals
  • Conserved Sequence
  • DNA, Intergenic
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Mammals
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Untranslated
  • Selection, Genetic


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