The timing of selection at the human FOXP2 gene

Mol Biol Evol. 2008 Jul;25(7):1257-9. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msn091. Epub 2008 Apr 15.


Krause J, Lalueza-Fox C, Orlando L, et al. recently examined patterns of genetic variation at FOXP2 in 2 Neanderthals. This gene is of particular interest because it is involved in speech and language and was previously shown to harbor the signature of recent positive selection. The authors found the same 2 amino acid substitutions in Neanderthals as in modern humans. Assuming that these sites were the targets of selection and no interbreeding between the 2 groups, they concluded that selection at FOXP2 occurred before the populations split, over 300 thousand years ago. Here, we show that the data are unlikely under this scenario but may instead be consistent with low rates of gene flow between modern humans and Neanderthals. We also collect additional data and introduce a modeling framework to estimate levels of modern human contamination of the Neanderthal samples. We find that, depending on the assumptions, additional control experiments may be needed to rule out contamination at FOXP2.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Population
  • Humans
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • FOXP2 protein, human
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors