Background: Genetic diversity is known to confer survival advantage in many species across the tree of life. Here, we hypothesize that such pattern applies to humans as well and could be a result of higher fitness in individuals with higher genomic heterozygosity.
Results: We use healthy aging as a proxy for better health and fitness, and observe greater heterozygosity in healthy-aged individuals. Specifically, we find that only common genetic variants show significantly higher excess of heterozygosity in the healthy-aged cohort. Lack of difference in heterozygosity for low-frequency variants or disease-associated variants excludes the possibility of compensation for deleterious recessive alleles as a mechanism. In addition, coding SNPs with the highest excess of heterozygosity in the healthy-aged cohort are enriched in genes involved in extracellular matrix and glycoproteins, a group of genes known to be under long-term balancing selection. We also find that individual heterozygosity rate is a significant predictor of electronic health record (EHR)-based estimates of 10-year survival probability in men but not in women, accounting for several factors including age and ethnicity.
Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that the genomic heterozygosity is associated with human healthspan, and that the relationship between higher heterozygosity and healthy aging could be explained by heterozygote advantage. Further characterization of this relationship will have important implications in aging-associated disease risk prediction.
Keywords: Balancing selection; Electronic health record; Fitness; Healthy aging; Heterozygote advantage; Human diseases.