The phenotypic legacy of admixture between modern humans and Neandertals

Science  12 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6274, pp. 737-741
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2149

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The legacy of human-Neandertal interbreeding

Non-African humans are estimated to have inherited on average 1.5 to 4% of their genomes from Neandertals. However, how this genetic legacy affects human traits is unknown. Simonti et al. combined genotyping data with electronic health records. Individual Neandertal alleles were correlated with clinically relevant phenotypes in individuals of European descent. These archaic genetic variants were associated with medical conditions affecting the skin, the blood, and the risk of depression.

Science, this issue p. 737


Many modern human genomes retain DNA inherited from interbreeding with archaic hominins, such as Neandertals, yet the influence of this admixture on human traits is largely unknown. We analyzed the contribution of common Neandertal variants to over 1000 electronic health record (EHR)–derived phenotypes in ~28,000 adults of European ancestry. We discovered and replicated associations of Neandertal alleles with neurological, psychiatric, immunological, and dermatological phenotypes. Neandertal alleles together explained a significant fraction of the variation in risk for depression and skin lesions resulting from sun exposure (actinic keratosis), and individual Neandertal alleles were significantly associated with specific human phenotypes, including hypercoagulation and tobacco use. Our results establish that archaic admixture influences disease risk in modern humans, provide hypotheses about the effects of hundreds of Neandertal haplotypes, and demonstrate the utility of EHR data in evolutionary analyses.

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