Association of the OCA2 polymorphism His615Arg with melanin content in east Asian populations: further evidence of convergent evolution of skin pigmentation

PLoS Genet. 2010 Mar 5;6(3):e1000867. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000867.


The last decade has witnessed important advances in our understanding of the genetics of pigmentation in European populations, but very little is known about the genes involved in skin pigmentation variation in East Asian populations. Here, we present the results of a study evaluating the association of 10 Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) located within 5 pigmentation candidate genes (OCA2, DCT, ADAM17, ADAMTS20, and TYRP1) with skin pigmentation measured quantitatively in a sample of individuals of East Asian ancestry living in Canada. We show that the non-synonymous polymorphism rs1800414 (His615Arg) located within the OCA2 gene is significantly associated with skin pigmentation in this sample. We replicated this result in an independent sample of Chinese individuals of Han ancestry. This polymorphism is characterized by a derived allele that is present at a high frequency in East Asian populations, but is absent in other population groups. In both samples, individuals with the derived G allele, which codes for the amino acid arginine, show lower melanin levels than those with the ancestral A allele, which codes for the amino acid histidine. An analysis of this non-synonymous polymorphism using several programs to predict potential functional effects provides additional support for the role of this SNP in skin pigmentation variation in East Asian populations. Our results are consistent with previous research indicating that evolution to lightly-pigmented skin occurred, at least in part, independently in Europe and East Asia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution / genetics*
  • Arginine / genetics
  • Asian People / genetics*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Canada
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Gene Frequency / genetics
  • Genotype
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Histidine / genetics
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Skin Pigmentation / genetics*


  • Melanins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • OCA2 protein, human
  • Histidine
  • Arginine