Neanderthal ancestry drives evolution of lipid catabolism in contemporary Europeans

Nat Commun. 2014 Apr 1;5:3584. doi: 10.1038/ncomms4584.


Although Neanderthals are extinct, fragments of their genomes persist in contemporary humans. Here we show that while the genome-wide frequency of Neanderthal-like sites is approximately constant across all contemporary out-of-Africa populations, genes involved in lipid catabolism contain more than threefold excess of such sites in contemporary humans of European descent. Evolutionally, these genes show significant association with signatures of recent positive selection in the contemporary European, but not Asian or African populations. Functionally, the excess of Neanderthal-like sites in lipid catabolism genes can be linked with a greater divergence of lipid concentrations and enzyme expression levels within this pathway, seen in contemporary Europeans, but not in the other populations. We conclude that sequence variants that evolved in Neanderthals may have given a selective advantage to anatomically modern humans that settled in the same geographical areas.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genome
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Neanderthals / classification
  • Neanderthals / genetics*
  • Neanderthals / metabolism*
  • Pan troglodytes / genetics
  • Pan troglodytes / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Whites / classification
  • Whites / genetics*
  • Whites / history