The persistence of schizophrenia in human populations at a high prevalence and with a large heritability estimate despite reduced fertility and increased mortality rate is a Darwinian paradox. This may be likely if the genomic components that predispose to schizophrenia are also advantageous for the acquisition of important human traits, such as language and cognition. Accordingly, an emerging group of genomic markers of recent evolution in humans, namely human accelerated regions (HARs), since our divergence from chimpanzees, are gaining importance for neurodevelopmental disorders, such as schizophrenia. We hypothesize that variants within HARs may affect the expression of genes under their control, thus contributing to disease etiology. A total of 49 HAR single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were prioritized from the complete repertoire of HARs (n = 2737) based on their functional relevance and prevalence in the South Asian population. Test of association using 2 independent schizophrenia case-control cohorts of north Indian ethnicity (discovery: n = 930; replication: n = 1104) revealed 3 SNPs (rs3800926, rs3801844, and rs764453) from chromosome 7 and rs77047799 from chromosome 3 to be significantly associated (combined analysis: Bonferroni corrected P < .002-.000004). Of note, these SNPs were found to alter the expression of neurodevelopmental genes such as SLC25A13, MAD1L1, and ULK4; a few from the HOX gene family; and a few genes that are implicated in mitochondrial function. These SNPs may most likely alter binding sites of transcription factors, including TFCP2, MAFK, SREBF2, E2F1, and/or methylation signatures around these genes. These findings reiterate a neurodevelopmental basis of schizophrenia and also open up a promising avenue to investigate HAR-mediated mitochondrial dysfunction in schizophrenia etiology.
Keywords: association; evolution; human accelerated regions; neurodevelopment; schizophrenia.
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