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The evolution and functional significance of nested gene structures in Drosophila melanogaster.

Abstract

Nearly 10% of the genes in the genome of Drosophila melanogaster are in nested structures, in which one gene is completely nested within the intron of another gene (nested and including gene, respectively). Even though the coding sequences and untranslated regions of these nested/including gene pairs do not overlap, their intimate structures and the possibility of shared regulatory sequences raise questions about the evolutionary forces governing the origination and subsequent functional and evolutionary impacts of these structures. In this study, we show that nested genes experience weaker evolutionary constraint, have faster rates of protein evolution, and are expressed in fewer tissues than other genes, while including genes show the opposite patterns. Surprisingly, despite completely overlapping with each other, nested and including genes are less likely to display correlated gene expression and biological function than the nearby yet nonoverlapping genes. Interestingly, significantly fewer nested genes are transcribed from the same strand as the including gene. We found that same-strand nested genes are more likely to be single-exon genes. In addition, same-strand including genes are less likely to have known lethal or sterile phenotypes than opposite-strand including genes only when the corresponding nested genes have introns. These results support our hypothesis that selection against potential erroneous mRNA splicing when nested and including genes are on the same strand plays an important role in the evolution of nested gene structures.

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