Post-genomics and the neutral theory: variation and conservation in the tumor necrosis factor-alpha promoter

Date Published:

Dec 30


In the post-genomics era, molecular evolutionary geneticists have come to possess the molecular, statistical, and computational tools for estimating the relative importance of selection and random genetic drift in virtually any gene in almost any organism. We have examined single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and nucleotide divergence across a region of approximately 1 kb in the promoter of the human tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) gene. TNF-alpha, which plays an important role in lymphocyte biology and in the pathogenesis of infectious and autoimmune diseases, is tightly regulated at the level of transcription through sequence-specific binding of transcription factors to cognate binding sites in a relatively small region of the 5' non-coding region of the gene. Analysis of the promoter region in 207 human chromosomes revealed nine SNPs, none of which were located in regions known to be important in transcriptional activation. Comparison with one promoter sequence in each of seven species of primates revealed 162 nucleotide sites occupied by a monomorphic nucleotide in the human sample but occupied by a different nucleotide in at least one of the primate sequences (a 'fixed human difference'). The fixed human differences were found outside the regions known to be important in transcriptional activation, and their large number suggests that they might be effectively neutral (Ns<<1). With regard to the human SNPs, although the hypothesis Ns approximately 0 cannot be rejected, the sample configurations suggest that the substitutions might be mildly deleterious. We emphasize the analytical insight to be gained from interspecific comparisons: through the interspecific comparisons, 3.1% of the total sequence information yielded 94.7% of the variable nucleotides. This combined approach, using interspecific comparisons and human polymorphism together with data from functional analyses, provides valuable insights into the evolutionary history and regulation of a key gene in the human immune response.


Goldfeld, A ELeung, J YSawyer, S AHartl, D LengGM56492/GM/NIGMS NIH HHS/GM58423/GM/NIGMS NIH HHS/HL59838/HL/NHLBI NIH HHS/Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.Netherlands2001/02/13 11:00Gene. 2000 Dec 30;261(1):19-25.

Last updated on 05/20/2015