BACKGROUNDThe elastin gene (ELN) is implicated as a factor in both supravalvular aortic stenosis (SVAS) and Williams Beuren Syndrome (WBS), two diseases involving pronounced complications in mental or physical development. Although the complete spectrum of functional roles of the processed gene product remains to be established, these roles are inferred to be analogous in human and mouse. This view is supported by genomic sequence comparison, in which there are no large-scale differences in the ~1.8 Mb sequence block encompassing the common region deleted in WBS, with the exception of an overall reversed physical orientation between human and mouse.RESULTSConserved synteny around ELN does not translate to a high level of conservation in the gene itself. In fact, ELN orthologs in mammals show more sequence divergence than expected for a gene with a critical role in development. The pattern of divergence is non-conventional due to an unusually high ratio of gaps to substitutions. Specifically, multi-sequence alignments of eight mammalian sequences reveal numerous non-aligning regions caused by species-specific insertions and deletions, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of aligning sites appear to be conserved and undergoing purifying selection.CONCLUSIONSThe pattern of lineage-specific, in-frame insertions/deletions in the coding exons of ELN orthologous genes is unusual and has led to unique features of the gene in each lineage. These differences may indicate that the gene has a slightly different functional mechanism in mammalian lineages, or that the corresponding regions are functionally inert. Identified regions that undergo purifying selection reflect a functional importance associated with evolutionary pressure to retain those features.