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Genetics. Feb 2004; 166(2): 1053–1079.
PMCID: PMC1470722

Polygenic variation maintained by balancing selection: pleiotropy, sex-dependent allelic effects and G x E interactions.


We investigate three alternative selection-based scenarios proposed to maintain polygenic variation: pleiotropic balancing selection, G x E interactions (with spatial or temporal variation in allelic effects), and sex-dependent allelic effects. Each analysis assumes an additive polygenic trait with n diallelic loci under stabilizing selection. We allow loci to have different effects and consider equilibria at which the population mean departs from the stabilizing-selection optimum. Under weak selection, each model produces essentially identical, approximate allele-frequency dynamics. Variation is maintained under pleiotropic balancing selection only at loci for which the strength of balancing selection exceeds the effective strength of stabilizing selection. In addition, for all models, polymorphism requires that the population mean be close enough to the optimum that directional selection does not overwhelm balancing selection. This balance allows many simultaneously stable equilibria, and we explore their properties numerically. Both spatial and temporal G x E can maintain variation at loci for which the coefficient of variation (across environments) of the effect of a substitution exceeds a critical value greater than one. The critical value depends on the correlation between substitution effects at different loci. For large positive correlations (e.g., rho(ij)2>3/4), even extreme fluctuations in allelic effects cannot maintain variation. Surprisingly, this constraint on correlations implies that sex-dependent allelic effects cannot maintain polygenic variation. We present numerical results that support our analytical approximations and discuss our results in connection to relevant data and alternative variance-maintaining mechanisms.

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Selected References

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