Sex-specific phenotypic effects and evolutionary history of an ancient polymorphic deletion of the human growth hormone receptor

Sci Adv. 2021 Sep 24;7(39):eabi4476. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abi4476. Epub 2021 Sep 24.


The common deletion of the third exon of the growth hormone receptor gene (GHRd3) in humans is associated with birth weight, growth after birth, and time of puberty. However, its evolutionary history and the molecular mechanisms through which it affects phenotypes remain unresolved. We present evidence that this deletion was nearly fixed in the ancestral population of anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals but underwent a recent adaptive reduction in frequency in East Asia. We documented that GHRd3 is associated with protection from severe malnutrition. Using a novel mouse model, we found that, under calorie restriction, Ghrd3 leads to the female-like gene expression in male livers and the disappearance of sexual dimorphism in weight. The sex- and diet-dependent effects of GHRd3 in our mouse model are consistent with a model in which the allele frequency of GHRd3 varies throughout human evolution as a response to fluctuations in resource availability.