Human Genetic Adaptation to High Altitudes: Current Status and Future Prospects.
ABSTRACT: The question of whether human populations have adapted genetically to high altitude has been of interest since studies began there in the early 1900s. Initially there was debate as to whether genetic adaptation to high altitude has taken place based, in part, on disciplinary orientation and the sources of evidence being considered. Studies centered on short-term responses, termed acclimatization, and the developmental changes occurring across lifetimes. A paradigm shift occurred with the advent of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) technologies and statistical methods for detecting evidence of natural selection, resulting in an exponential rise in the number of publications reporting genetic adaptation. Reviewed here are the various kinds of evidence by which adaptation to high altitude has been assessed and which have led to widespread acceptance of the idea that genetic adaptation to high altitude has occurred. While methodological and other challenges remain for determining the specific gene or genes involved and the physiological mechanisms by which they are exerting their effects, considerable progress has been realized as shown by recent studies in Tibetans, Andeans and Ethiopians. Further advances are anticipated with the advent of new statistical methods, whole-genome sequencing and other molecular techniques for finer-scale genetic mapping, and greater intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaboration to identify the functional consequences of the genes or gene regions implicated and the time scales involved.
Project description:High-altitude hypoxia (reduced inspired oxygen tension due to decreased barometric pressure) exerts severe physiological stress on the human body. Two high-altitude regions where humans have lived for millennia are the Andean Altiplano and the Tibetan Plateau. Populations living in these regions exhibit unique circulatory, respiratory, and hematological adaptations to life at high altitude. Although these responses have been well characterized physiologically, their underlying genetic basis remains unknown. We performed a genome scan to identify genes showing evidence of adaptation to hypoxia. We looked across each chromosome to identify genomic regions with previously unknown function with respect to altitude phenotypes. In addition, groups of genes functioning in oxygen metabolism and sensing were examined to test the hypothesis that particular pathways have been involved in genetic adaptation to altitude. Applying four population genetic statistics commonly used for detecting signatures of natural selection, we identified selection-nominated candidate genes and gene regions in these two populations (Andeans and Tibetans) separately. The Tibetan and Andean patterns of genetic adaptation are largely distinct from one another, with both populations showing evidence of positive natural selection in different genes or gene regions. Interestingly, one gene previously known to be important in cellular oxygen sensing, EGLN1 (also known as PHD2), shows evidence of positive selection in both Tibetans and Andeans. However, the pattern of variation for this gene differs between the two populations. Our results indicate that several key HIF-regulatory and targeted genes are responsible for adaptation to high altitude in Andeans and Tibetans, and several different chromosomal regions are implicated in the putative response to selection. These data suggest a genetic role in high-altitude adaption and provide a basis for future genotype/phenotype association studies necessary to confirm the role of selection-nominated candidate genes and gene regions in adaptation to altitude.
Project description:Simonson, Tatum S. Altitude adaptation: A glimpse through various lenses. High Alt Med Biol 16:125-137, 2015.--Recent availability of genome-wide data from highland populations has enabled the identification of adaptive genomic signals. Some of the genomic signals reported thus far among Tibetan, Andean, and Ethiopian are the same, while others appear unique to each population. These genomic findings parallel observations conveyed by decades of physiological research: different continental populations, resident at high altitude for hundreds of generations, exhibit a distinct composite of traits at altitude. The most commonly reported signatures of selection emanate from genomic segments containing hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway genes. Corroborative evidence for adaptive significance stems from associations between putatively adaptive gene copies and sea-level ranges of hemoglobin concentration in Tibetan and Amhara Ethiopians, birth weights and metabolic factors in Andeans and Tibetans, maternal uterine artery diameter in Andeans, and protection from chronic mountain sickness in Andean males at altitude. While limited reports provide mechanistic insights thus far, efforts to identify and link precise genetic variants to molecular, physiological, and developmental functions are underway, and progress on the genomics front continues to provide unprecedented movement towards these goals. This combination of multiple perspectives is necessary to maximize our understanding of orchestrated biological and evolutionary processes in native highland populations, which will advance our understanding of both adaptive and non-adaptive responses to hypoxia.
Project description:Recent discoveries indicate a genetic basis for high-altitude adaptation among human groups who have resided at high altitude for millennia, including Andeans, Tibetans, and Ethiopians. Yet, genetics alone does not explain the extent of variation in altitude-adaptive phenotypes. Current and past environments may also play a role, and one way to determine the effect of the environment is through the epigenome. To characterize if Andean adaptive responses to high altitude have an epigenetic component, we analyzed DNA methylation of the promoter region of EPAS1 and LINE-1 repetitive element among 572 Quechua individuals from high- (4,388 m) and low-altitude (0 m) in Peru. Participants recruited at high altitude had lower EPAS1 DNA methylation and higher LINE-1 methylation. Altitude of birth was associated with higher LINE-1 methylation, not with EPAS1 methylation. The number of years lived at high altitude was negatively associated with EPAS1 methylation and positively associated with LINE-1 methylation. We found four one-carbon metabolism SNPs (MTHFD1 rs2236225, TYMS rs502396, FOLH1 rs202676, GLDC rs10975681) that cumulatively explained 11.29% of the variation in average LINE-1 methylation. And identified an association between LINE-1 methylation and genome-wide SNP principal component 1 that distinguishes European from Indigenous American ancestry suggesting that European admixture decreases LINE-1 methylation. Our results indicate that both current and lifetime exposure to high-altitude hypoxia have an effect on EPAS1 and LINE-1 methylation among Andean Quechua, suggesting that epigenetic modifications may play a role in high-altitude adaptation.
Project description:EGLN1 encodes the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway prolyl hydroxylase 2 (PHD2) that serves as an oxygen-sensitive regulator of HIF activity. The EGLN1 locus exhibits a signature of positive selection in Tibetan and Andean populations and is associated with hemoglobin concentration in Tibetans. Recent reports provide evidence for functional roles of protein-coding variants within the first exon of EGLN1 (rs186996510, rs12097901) that are linked to an adaptive signal in Tibetans, yet whether these same variants are present and contribute to adaptation in Andean highlanders is unknown. We determined the frequencies of these adaptive Tibetan alleles in Quechua Andeans resident at high altitude (4,350 m) in addition to individuals of Nepali ancestry resident at sea level. The rs186996510 C (minor) allele previously found at high frequency in Tibetans is absent in Andean (G: 100%) and rare among Nepali (C: 11.8%, G: 88.2%) cohorts. The minor G allele of rs12097901 is found at similarly low frequencies in Andeans (G: 12.7%, C: 87.3%) and Nepalis (G: 23.5%, C: 76.5%) compared to Tibetans. These results suggest that adaptation involving EGLN1 in Andeans involves different mechanisms than those described in Tibetans. The precise Andean adaptive variants remain to be determined.
Project description:High altitudes (>8,000 ft or 2,500 m) provide an experiment of nature for measuring adaptation and the physiological processes involved. Studies conducted over the past ~25 years in Andeans, Tibetans, and, less often, Ethiopians show varied but distinct O2 transport traits from those of acclimatized newcomers, providing indirect evidence for genetic adaptation to high altitude. Short-term (acclimatization, developmental) and long-term (genetic) responses to high altitude exhibit a temporal gradient such that, although all influence O2 content, the latter also improve O2 delivery and metabolism. Much has been learned concerning the underlying physiological processes, but additional studies are needed on the regulation of blood flow and O2 utilization. Direct evidence of genetic adaptation comes from single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based genome scans and whole genome sequencing studies that have identified gene regions acted upon by natural selection. Efforts have begun to understand the connections between the two with Andean studies on the genetic factors raising uterine blood flow, fetal growth, and susceptibility to Chronic Mountain Sickness and Tibetan studies on genes serving to lower hemoglobin and pulmonary arterial pressure. Critical for future studies will be the selection of phenotypes with demonstrable effects on reproductive success, the calculation of actual fitness costs, and greater inclusion of women among the subjects being studied. The well-characterized nature of the O2 transport system, the presence of multiple long-resident populations, and relevance for understanding hypoxic disorders in all persons underscore the importance of understanding how evolutionary adaptation to high altitude has occurred.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Variation in O2 transport characteristics among Andean, Tibetan, and, when available, Ethiopian high-altitude residents supports the existence of genetic adaptations that improve the distribution of blood flow to vital organs and the efficiency of O2 utilization. Genome scans and whole genome sequencing studies implicate a broad range of gene regions. Future studies are needed using phenotypes of clear relevance for reproductive success for determining the mechanisms by which naturally selected genes are acting.
Project description:The study of the biology of evolution has been confined to laboratories and model organisms. However, controlled laboratory conditions are unlikely to model variations in environments that influence selection in wild populations. Thus, the study of "fitness" for survival and the genetics that influence this are best carried out in the field and in matching environments. Therefore, we studied highland populations in their native environments, to learn how they cope with ambient hypoxia. The Andeans, African highlanders and Himalayans have adapted differently to their hostile environment. Chronic mountain sickness (CMS), a loss of adaptation to altitude, is common in the Andes, occasionally found in the Himalayas; and absent from the East African altitude plateau. We compared molecular signatures (distinct patterns of gene expression) of hypoxia-related genes, in white blood cells (WBC) from Andeans with (n = 10), without CMS (n = 10) and sea-level controls from Lima (n = 20) with those obtained from CMS (n = 8) and controls (n = 5) Ladakhi subjects from the Tibetan altitude plateau. We further analyzed the expression of a subset of these genes in Ethiopian highlanders (n = 8). In all subjects, we performed the studies at their native altitude and after they were rendered normoxic. We identified a gene that predicted CMS in Andeans and Himalayans (PDP2). After achieving normoxia, WBC gene expression still distinguished Andean and Himalayan CMS subjects. Remarkably, analysis of the small subset of genes (n = 8) studied in all 3 highland populations showed normoxia induced gene expression changes in Andeans, but not in Ethiopians nor Himalayan controls. This is consistent with physiologic studies in which Ethiopians and Himalayans show a lack of responsiveness to hypoxia of the cerebral circulation and of the hypoxic ventilatory drive, and with the absence of CMS on the East African altitude plateau.
Project description:Indigenous Tibetan people have lived on the Tibetan Plateau for millennia. There is a long-standing question about the genetic basis of high-altitude adaptation in Tibetans. We conduct a genome-wide study of 7.3 million genotyped and imputed SNPs of 3,008 Tibetans and 7,287 non-Tibetan individuals of Eastern Asian ancestry. Using this large dataset, we detect signals of high-altitude adaptation at nine genomic loci, of which seven are unique. The alleles under natural selection at two of these loci [methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) and EPAS1] are strongly associated with blood-related phenotypes, such as hemoglobin, homocysteine, and folate in Tibetans. The folate-increasing allele of rs1801133 at the MTHFR locus has an increased frequency in Tibetans more than expected under a drift model, which is probably a consequence of adaptation to high UV radiation. These findings provide important insights into understanding the genomic consequences of high-altitude adaptation in Tibetans.
Project description:Analysis of GLOBOCAN-2012 data shows clearly here that cancer incidence worldwide is highly related with low average annual temperatures and extreme low temperatures. This applies for all cancers together or separately for many frequent or rare cancer types (all cancers P?=?9.49×10-18). Supporting fact is that Inuit people, living at extreme low temperatures, have the highest cancer rates today. Hypothesizing an evolutionary explanation, 240 cancer genome-wide association studies, and seven genome-wide association studies for cold and high-altitude adaptation were combined. A list of 1,377 cancer-associated genes was created to initially investigate whether cold selected genes are enriched with cancer-associated genes. Among Native Americans, Inuit and Eskimos, the highest association was observed for Native Americans (P?=?6.7×10-5). An overall or a meta-analysis approach confirmed further this result. Similar approach for three populations living at extreme high altitude, revealed high association for Andeans-Tibetans (P?=?1.3×10-11). Overall analysis or a meta-analysis was also significant. A separate analysis showed special selection for tumor suppressor genes. These results can be viewed along with those of previous functional studies that showed that reduced apoptosis potential due to specific p53 variants (the most important tumor suppressor gene) is beneficial in high-altitude and cold environments. In conclusion, this study shows that genetic variants selected for adaptation at extreme environmental conditions can increase cancer risk later on age. This is in accordance with antagonistic pleiotropy hypothesis.
Project description:The genetic relationships reported by recent studies between Sherpas and Tibetans are controversial. To gain insights into the population history and the genetic basis of high-altitude adaptation of the two groups, we analyzed genome-wide data in 111 Sherpas (Tibet and Nepal) and 177 Tibetans (Tibet and Qinghai), together with available data from present-day human populations.Sherpas and Tibetans show considerable genetic differences and can be distinguished as two distinct groups, even though the divergence between them (~3200-11,300 years ago) is much later than that between Han Chinese and either of the two groups (~6200-16,000 years ago). Sub-population structures exist in both Sherpas and Tibetans, corresponding to geographical or linguistic groups. Differentiation of genetic variants between Sherpas and Tibetans associated with adaptation to either high-altitude or ultraviolet radiation were identified and validated by genotyping additional Sherpa and Tibetan samples.Our analyses indicate that both Sherpas and Tibetans are admixed populations, but the findings do not support the previous hypothesis that Tibetans derive their ancestry from Sherpas and Han Chinese. Compared to Tibetans, Sherpas show higher levels of South Asian ancestry, while Tibetans show higher levels of East Asian and Central Asian/Siberian ancestry. We propose a new model to elucidate the differentiated demographic histories and local adaptations of Sherpas and Tibetans.
Project description:The genetic adaptation of Tibetans to high altitude hypoxia likely involves a group of genes in the hypoxic pathway, as suggested by earlier studies. To test the adaptive role of the previously reported candidate gene <i>EP300</i> (histone acetyltransferase p300), we conducted resequencing of a 108.9 kb gene region of <i>EP300</i> in 80 unrelated Tibetans. The allele-frequency and haplotype-based neutrality tests detected signals of positive Darwinian selection on <i>EP300</i> in Tibetans, with a group of variants showing allelic divergence between Tibetans and lowland reference populations, including Han Chinese, Europeans, and Africans. Functional prediction suggested the involvement of multiple <i>EP300</i> variants in gene expression regulation. More importantly, genetic association tests in 226 Tibetans indicated significant correlation of the adaptive <i>EP300</i> variants with blood nitric oxide (NO) concentration. Collectively, we propose that <i>EP300</i> harbors adaptive variants in Tibetans, which might contribute to high-altitude adaptation through regulating NO production.