Phylogeny and adaptive evolution of the brain-development gene microcephalin (MCPH1) in cetaceans

Michael R McGowen, Stephen H Montgomery, Clay Clark, John Gatesy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Representatives of Cetacea have the greatest absolute brain size among animals, and the largest relative brain size aside from humans. Despite this, genes implicated in the evolution of large brain size in primates have yet to be surveyed in cetaceans.

RESULTS: We sequenced ~1240 basepairs of the brain development gene microcephalin (MCPH1) in 38 cetacean species. Alignments of these data and a published complete sequence from Tursiops truncatus with primate MCPH1 were utilized in phylogenetic analyses and to estimate ω (rate of nonsynonymous substitution/rate of synonymous substitution) using site and branch models of molecular evolution. We also tested the hypothesis that selection on MCPH1 was correlated with brain size in cetaceans using a continuous regression analysis that accounted for phylogenetic history. Our analyses revealed widespread signals of adaptive evolution in the MCPH1 of Cetacea and in other subclades of Mammalia, however, there was not a significant positive association between ω and brain size within Cetacea.

CONCLUSION: In conjunction with a recent study of Primates, we find no evidence to support an association between MCPH1 evolution and the evolution of brain size in highly encephalized mammalian species. Our finding of significant positive selection in MCPH1 may be linked to other functions of the gene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2011


  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Brain/growth & development
  • Cetacea/classification
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins/genetics
  • Organ Size
  • Phylogeny
  • Primates/classification


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