Myosin gene mutation correlates with anatomical changes in the human lineage

Nature. 2004 Mar 25;428(6981):415-8. doi: 10.1038/nature02358.


Powerful masticatory muscles are found in most primates, including chimpanzees and gorillas, and were part of a prominent adaptation of Australopithecus and Paranthropus, extinct genera of the family Hominidae. In contrast, masticatory muscles are considerably smaller in both modern and fossil members of Homo. The evolving hominid masticatory apparatus--traceable to a Late Miocene, chimpanzee-like morphology--shifted towards a pattern of gracilization nearly simultaneously with accelerated encephalization in early Homo. Here, we show that the gene encoding the predominant myosin heavy chain (MYH) expressed in these muscles was inactivated by a frameshifting mutation after the lineages leading to humans and chimpanzees diverged. Loss of this protein isoform is associated with marked size reductions in individual muscle fibres and entire masticatory muscles. Using the coding sequence for the myosin rod domains as a molecular clock, we estimate that this mutation appeared approximately 2.4 million years ago, predating the appearance of modern human body size and emigration of Homo from Africa. This represents the first proteomic distinction between humans and chimpanzees that can be correlated with a traceable anatomic imprint in the fossil record.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Computational Biology
  • Dogs
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Exons / genetics
  • Fossils*
  • Frameshift Mutation / genetics*
  • History, Ancient
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Hominidae / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Macaca / anatomy & histology
  • Macaca / genetics
  • Masticatory Muscles / anatomy & histology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Myosin Heavy Chains / chemistry
  • Myosin Heavy Chains / genetics*
  • Myosins / chemistry
  • Myosins / genetics*
  • Pan troglodytes / anatomy & histology
  • Pan troglodytes / genetics
  • Phylogeny*
  • Pongo pygmaeus / anatomy & histology
  • Pongo pygmaeus / genetics
  • Skull / anatomy & histology
  • Time Factors


  • MYH16 protein, human
  • Myosin Heavy Chains
  • Myosins

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AC112711