Differential Evolutionary Rates of Neuronal Transcriptome in Aplysia kurodai and Aplysia californica as a Tool for Gene Mining

The marine mollusk Aplysia is a fascinating model organism for studying molecular mechanisms underlying learning and memory. However, evolutionary studies about Aplysia have been limited by the lack of its genomic information. Recently, large-scale expressed sequence tag (EST) databases have been acquired by sequencing cDNA libraries from A. californica and A. kurodai. The closeness between the two species allowed us to investigate rapidly evolving genes by comparing their orthologs. Using this method, we found that a subset of signal transduction genes in neurons showed rates of protein evolution higher than those of housekeeping genes. Moreover, we were also able to find several candidate genes that may be involved in learning and memory or synaptic plasticity among genes showing relatively higher K(a)/K(s) ratios. We also investigated the relationship between evolutionary rates and tissue distribution of Aplysia genes. They propose that the estimation of evolutionary rates cannot be a good marker to assess neuronal expression; however, it still can be an efficient way to narrow down the pool of candidate genes involved in neuronal functions for the further studies.