Population diversity and adaptive evolution in keratinization genes: impact of environment in shaping skin phenotypes

Pramod Gautam, Amit Chaurasia, Aniket Bhattacharya, Ritika Grover, Mitali Mukerji, Vivek T Natarajan, Indian Genome Variation Consortium

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12 Scopus citations


Several studies have demonstrated the role of climatic factors in shaping skin phenotypes, particularly pigmentation. Keratinization is another well-designed feature of human skin, which is involved in modulating transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Although this physiological process is closely linked to climate, presently it is not clear whether genetic diversity is observed in keratinization and whether this process also responds to the environmental pressure. To address this, we adopted a multipronged approach, which involved analysis of 1) copy number variations in diverse Indian and HapMap populations from varied geographical regions; 2) genetic association with geoclimatic parameters in 61 populations of dbCLINE database in a set of 549 genes from four processes namely keratinization, pigmentation, epidermal differentiation, and housekeeping functions; 3) sequence divergence in 4,316 orthologous promoters and corresponding exonic regions of human and chimpanzee with macaque as outgroup, and 4) protein sequence divergence (Ka/Ks) across nine vertebrate classes, which differ in their extent of TEWL. Our analyses demonstrate that keratinization and epidermal differentiation genes are under accelerated evolution in the human lineage, relative to pigmentation and housekeeping genes. We show that this entire pathway may have been driven by environmental selection pressure through concordant functional polymorphisms across several genes involved in skin keratinization. Remarkably, this underappreciated function of skin may be a crucial determinant of adaptation to diverse environmental pressures across world populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-73
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


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