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Mol Biol Evol. 2002 Jul;19(7):1143-53.

Searching for evidence of positive selection in the human genome using patterns of microsatellite variability.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Biosciences West Building, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA. payseur@email.arizona.edu


Both natural selection and nonequilibrium population-level processes can lead to a skew in the frequency distribution of polymorphisms. Population-level processes are expected to affect all loci in a roughly equal fashion, whereas selection will affect only some regions of the genome. We conducted a sliding-window analysis of the frequency distribution of microsatellite polymorphisms across the human genome to identify regions that may be under positive selection. The analysis was based on a published data set of 5,257 mapped microsatellites in individuals of European ancestry. Observed and expected numbers of alleles were compared under a stepwise mutation model (SMM) using analytical formulae. Observed and expected heterozygosities were compared under a SMM using coalescent simulations. The two sets of analyses gave similar results. Approximately one-fourth of all loci showed a significant deficit of heterozygosity, consistent with a recent population expansion. Forty-three windows were identified with extreme skews in the frequency distribution of polymorphisms (in the direction of a deficit of heterozygosity, given the number of alleles). If these extreme windows are tracking selection at linked sites, theory predicts that they should be more common in regions of the genome with less recombination. We tested this prediction by comparing recombination rates in these extreme windows and in other regions of the genome and found that extreme windows had a significantly lower recombination rate than the genomic average. The proportion of extreme windows was significantly higher on the X chromosome than on the autosomes. Moreover, all the windows with extreme skews on the X chromosome were found in two clusters near the centromere; both these clusters exhibit markedly reduced recombination rates. These analyses point to regions of the genome that may recently have been subject to positive selection. These results also suggest that the effects of positive selection may be more pronounced on the X chromosome than on the autosomes in humans.

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