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Polygenic selection underlies evolution of human brain structure and behavioral traits

By Evan R. Beiter, Ekaterina A. Khramtsova, Celia van der Merwe, Emile R. Chimusa, Corinne Simonti, Dan J Stein, Paul M Thompson, Simon E. Fisher, Dan J. Stein, John A. Capra, James A. Knowles, Barbara E. Stranger, Lea K. Davis

Posted 09 Sep 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/164707

Seemingly paradoxical characteristics of psychiatric disorders, including moderate to high prevalence, reduced fecundity, and high heritability have motivated explanations for the persistence of common risk alleles for severe psychiatric phenotypes throughout human evolution. Proposed mechanisms include balancing selection, drift, and weak polygenic adaptation acting either directly, or indirectly through selection on correlated traits. While many mechanisms have been proposed, few have been empirically tested. Leveraging publicly available data of unprecedented sample size, we studied twenty-five traits (i.e., ten neuropsychiatric disorders, three personality traits, total intracranial volume, seven subcortical brain structure volume traits, and four complex traits without neuropsychiatric associations) for evidence of several different signatures of selection over a range of evolutionary time scales. Consistent with the largely polygenic architecture of neuropsychiatric traits, we found no enrichment of trait-associated single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in regions of the genome that underwent classical selective sweeps (i.e., events which would have driven selected alleles to near fixation). However, we discovered that SNPs associated with some, but not all, behaviors and brain structure volumes are enriched in genomic regions under selection since divergence from Neanderthals ~600,000 years ago, and show further evidence for signatures of ancient and recent polygenic adaptation. Individual subcortical brain structure volumes demonstrate genome-wide evidence in support of a mosaic theory of brain evolution while total intracranial volume and height appear to share evolutionary constraints consistent with concerted evolution. We further characterized the biological processes potentially targeted by selection, through expression Quantitative Trait Locus (eQTL) and Gene Ontology (GO) enrichment analyses and found evidence for the role of regulatory functions among selected SNPs in immune and brain tissues. Taken together, our results suggest that alleles associated with neuropsychiatric, behavioral, and brain volume phenotypes have experienced both ancient and recent polygenic adaptation in human evolution, acting through neurodevelopmental and immune-mediated pathways.

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