Non D-loop direct repeats (DRs) in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have been commonly implicated in the mutagenesis of mtDNA deletions associated with neuromuscular disease and ageing. Further, these DRs have been hypothesized to put a constraint on the lifespan of mammals and are under a negative selection pressure. Using a compendium of 294 mammalian mtDNA, we re-examined the relationship between species lifespan and the mutagenicity of such DRs. Contradicting the prevailing hypotheses, we found no significant evidence that long-lived mammals possess fewer mutagenic DRs than short-lived mammals. By comparing DR counts in human mtDNA with those in selectively randomized sequences, we also showed that the number of DRs in human mtDNA is primarily determined by global mtDNA properties, such as the bias in synonymous codon usage (SCU) and nucleotide composition. We found that SCU bias in mtDNA positively correlates with DR counts, where repeated usage of a subset of codons leads to more frequent DR occurrences. While bias in SCU and nucleotide composition has been attributed to nucleotide mutational bias, mammalian mtDNA still exhibit higher SCU bias and DR counts than expected from such mutational bias, suggesting a lack of negative selection against non D-loop DRs.
Lakshmanan, L. N., Gruber, J., Halliwell, B., & Gunawan, R. (2015). Are mutagenic non D-loop direct repeat motifs in mitochondrial DNA under a negative selection pressure. Nucleic Acids Research, 43(8), 4098–4108. https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkv299