A method for detecting positive selection at single amino acid sites

Yoshiyuki Suzuki, Takashi Gojobori*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

389 Scopus citations


A method was developed for detecting the selective force at single amine acid sites given a multiple alignment of protein-coding sequences. The phylogenetic tree was reconstructed using the number of synonymous substitutions. Then, the neutrality was tested for each codon site using the numbers of synonymous and nonsynonymous changes throughout the phylogenetic tree. Computer simulation showed that this method accurately estimated the numbers of synonymous and nonsynonymous substitutions per site, as long as the substitution number on each branch was relatively small. The false- positive rate for detecting the selective force was generally low. On the other hand, the true-positive rate for detecting the selective force depended on the parameter values. Within the range of parameter values used in the simulation, the true-positive rate increased as the strength of the selective force and the total branch length (namely the total number of synonymous substitutions per site) in the phylogenetic tree increased. In particular, with the relative rate of nonsynonymous substitutions to synonymous substitutions being 5.0, most of the positively selected codon sites were correctly detected when the total branch length in the phylogenetic tree was ≥2.5. When this method was applied to the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) gene, which included antigen recognition sites (ARSs), positive selection was detected mainly on ARSs. This finding confirmed the effectiveness of the present method with actual data. Moreover, two amine acid sites were newly identified as positively selected in non-ARSs. The three-dimensional structure of the HLA molecule indicated that these sites might be involved in antigen recognition. Positively selected amine acid sites were also identified in the envelope protein of human immunodeficiency virus and the influenza virus hemagglutinin protein. This method may be helpful for predicting functions of amine acid sites in proteins, especially in the present situation, in which sequence data are accumulating at an enormous speed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1315-1328
Number of pages14
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Multiple alignment
  • Negative selection
  • Nonsynonymous substitution
  • Phylogenetic tree
  • Positive selection
  • Synonymous substitution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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