Animal mitochondria play a central role in energy production in the cells through the oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) pathway. Recent studies of selection on different mitochondrial OXPHOS genes have revealed the adaptive implications of amino acid changes in these subunits. In hares, climatic variation and/or introgression were suggested to be at the origin of such adaptation. Here we looked for evidence of positive selection in three mitochondrial OXPHOS genes, using tests of selection, protein structure modelling and effects of amino acid substitutions on the protein function and stability. We also used statistical models to test for climate and introgression effects on sites under positive selection.Our results revealed seven sites under positive selection in ND4 and three sites in Cytb. However, no sites under positive selection were observed in the COX1 gene. All three subunits presented a high number of codons under negative selection. Sites under positive selection were mapped on the tridimensional structure of the predicted models for the respective mitochondrial subunit. Of the ten amino acid replacements inferred to have evolved under positive selection for both subunits, six were located in the transmembrane domain. On the other hand, three codons were identified as sites lining proton translocation channels. Furthermore, four codons were identified as destabilizing with a significant variation of Δ vibrational entropy energy between wild and mutant type. Moreover, our PROVEAN analysis suggested that among all positively selected sites two fixed amino acid replacements altered the protein functioning. Our statistical models indicated significant effects of climate on the presence of ND4 and Cytb protein variants, but no effect by trans-specific mitochondrial DNA introgression, which is not uncommon in a number of hare species.Positive selection was observed in several codons in two OXPHOS genes. We found that substitutions in the positively selected codons have structural and functional impacts on the encoded proteins. Our results are concordantly suggesting that adaptations have strongly affected the evolution of mtDNA of hare species with potential effects on the protein function. Environmental/climatic changes appear to be a major trigger of this adaptation, whereas trans-specific introgressive hybridization seems to play no major role for the occurrence of protein variants.
Animals China DNA, Mitochondrialgenetics Genes, Mitochondrial Haresgenetics Phylogeny