Genetic ancestry, admixture and health determinants in Latin America

BMC Genomics. 2018 Dec 11;19(Suppl 8):861. doi: 10.1186/s12864-018-5195-7.


Background: Modern Latin American populations were formed via genetic admixture among ancestral source populations from Africa, the Americas and Europe. We are interested in studying how combinations of genetic ancestry in admixed Latin American populations may impact genomic determinants of health and disease. For this study, we characterized the impact of ancestry and admixture on genetic variants that underlie health- and disease-related phenotypes in population genomic samples from Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Puerto Rico.

Results: We analyzed a total of 347 admixed Latin American genomes along with 1102 putative ancestral source genomes from Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans. We characterized the genetic ancestry, relatedness, and admixture patterns for each of the admixed Latin American genomes, finding a spectrum of ancestry proportions within and between populations. We then identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with anomalous ancestry-enrichment patterns, i.e. SNPs that exist in any given Latin American population at a higher frequency than expected based on the population's genetic ancestry profile. For this set of ancestry-enriched SNPs, we inspected their phenotypic impact on disease, metabolism, and the immune system. All four of the Latin American populations show ancestry-enrichment for a number of shared pathways, yielding evidence of similar selection pressures on these populations during their evolution. For example, all four populations show ancestry-enriched SNPs in multiple genes from immune system pathways, such as the cytokine receptor interaction, T cell receptor signaling, and antigen presentation pathways. We also found SNPs with excess African or European ancestry that are associated with ancestry-specific gene expression patterns and play crucial roles in the immune system and infectious disease responses. Genes from both the innate and adaptive immune system were found to be regulated by ancestry-enriched SNPs with population-specific regulatory effects.

Conclusions: Ancestry-enriched SNPs in Latin American populations have a substantial effect on health- and disease-related phenotypes. The concordant impact observed for same phenotypes across populations points to a process of adaptive introgression, whereby ancestry-enriched SNPs with specific functional utility appear to have been retained in modern populations by virtue of their effects on health and fitness.

Keywords: Adaptive introgression; Admixture; Ancestry-enrichment; Disease; Genetic ancestry; Health; Immune system; Population genetics.

MeSH terms

  • Blacks
  • Disease / ethnology*
  • Disease / genetics*
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genome, Human*
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Latin America
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Whites