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Ann Hum Genet. 2007 May;71(Pt 3):354-69. Epub 2007 Jan 18.

Signatures of positive selection in genes associated with human skin pigmentation as revealed from analyses of single nucleotide polymorphisms.

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Department of Forensic Molecular Biology, Erasmus University Medical Centre Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


Phenotypic variation between human populations in skin pigmentation correlates with latitude at the continental level. A large number of hypotheses involving genetic adaptation have been proposed to explain human variation in skin colour, but only limited genetic evidence for positive selection has been presented. To shed light on the evolutionary genetic history of human variation in skin colour we inspected 118 genes associated with skin pigmentation in the Perlegen dataset, studying single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and analyzed 55 genes in detail. We identified eight genes that are associated with the melanin pathway (SLC45A2, OCA2, TYRP1, DCT, KITLG, EGFR, DRD2 and PPARD) and presented significant differences in genetic variation between Europeans, Africans and Asians. In six of these genes we detected, by means of the EHH test, variability patterns that are compatible with the hypothesis of local positive selection in Europeans (OCA2, TYRP1 and KITLG) and in Asians (OCA2, DCT, KITLG, EGFR and DRD2), whereas signals were scarce in Africans (DCT, EGFR and DRD2). Furthermore, a statistically significant correlation between genotypic variation in four pigmentation candidate genes and phenotypic variation of skin colour in 51 worldwide human populations was revealed. Overall, our data also suggest that light skin colour is the derived state and is of independent origin in Europeans and Asians, whereas dark skin color seems of unique origin, reflecting the ancestral state in humans.

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