Genome-wide scans provide evidence for positive selection of genes implicated in Lassa fever

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2012 Mar 19;367(1590):868-77. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0299.


Rapidly evolving viruses and other pathogens can have an immense impact on human evolution as natural selection acts to increase the prevalence of genetic variants providing resistance to disease. With the emergence of large datasets of human genetic variation, we can search for signatures of natural selection in the human genome driven by such disease-causing microorganisms. Based on this approach, we have previously hypothesized that Lassa virus (LASV) may have been a driver of natural selection in West African populations where Lassa haemorrhagic fever is endemic. In this study, we provide further evidence for this notion. By applying tests for selection to genome-wide data from the International Haplotype Map Consortium and the 1000 Genomes Consortium, we demonstrate evidence for positive selection in LARGE and interleukin 21 (IL21), two genes implicated in LASV infectivity and immunity. We further localized the signals of selection, using the recently developed composite of multiple signals method, to introns and putative regulatory regions of those genes. Our results suggest that natural selection may have targeted variants giving rise to alternative splicing or differential gene expression of LARGE and IL21. Overall, our study supports the hypothesis that selective pressures imposed by LASV may have led to the emergence of particular alleles conferring resistance to Lassa fever, and opens up new avenues of research pursuit.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Africa, Western
  • Black People / genetics
  • Disease Resistance / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Interleukins / genetics*
  • Lassa Fever / genetics*
  • Lassa virus / pathogenicity*
  • N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferases / genetics*
  • Phylogeography
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • Interleukins
  • LARGE1 protein, human
  • N-Acetylglucosaminyltransferases
  • interleukin-21