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Phylogenetic simulation of promoter evolution: estimation and modeling of binding site turnover events and assessment of their impact on alignment tools

Weichun Huang12*, Joseph R Nevins1 and Uwe Ohler1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA

2 Current address: Department of Biology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA

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Genome Biology 2007, 8:R225  doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-10-r225

Published: 24 October 2007

Abstract

Background

The phenomenon of functional site turnover has important implications for the study of regulatory region evolution, such as for promoter sequence alignments and transcription factor binding site (TFBS) identification. At present, it remains difficult to estimate TFBS turnover rates on real genomic sequences, as reliable mappings of functional sites across related species are often not available. As an alternative, we introduce a flexible new simulation system, Phylogenetic Simulation of Promoter Evolution (PSPE), designed to study functional site turnovers in regulatory sequences.

Results

Using PSPE, we study replacement turnover rates of different individual TFBSs and simple modules of two sites under neutral evolutionary functional constraints. We find that TFBS replacement turnover can happen rapidly in promoters, and turnover rates vary significantly among different TFBSs and modules. We assess the influence of different constraints such as insertion/deletion rate and translocation distances. Complementing the simulations, we give simple but effective mathematical models for TFBS turnover rate prediction. As one important application of PSPE, we also present a first systematic evaluation of multiple sequence aligners regarding their capability of detecting TFBSs in promoters with site turnovers.

Conclusion

PSPE allows researchers for the first time to investigate TFBS replacement turnovers in promoters systematically. The assessment of alignment tools points out the limitations of current approaches to identify TFBSs in non-coding sequences, where turnover events of functional sites may happen frequently, and where we are interested in assessing the similarity on the functional level. PSPE is freely available at the authors' website.