Darwinian Positive Selection on the Pleiotropic Effects of KITLG Explain Skin Pigmentation and Winter Temperature Adaptation in Eurasians


Human skin color diversity is considered an adaptation to environmental conditions such as UV radiation. Investigations into the genetic bases of such adaptation have identified a group of pigmentation genes contributing to skin color diversity in African and non-African populations. Here, we present a population analysis of the pigmentation gene KITLG with previously reported signal of Darwinian positive selection in both European and East Asian populations. We demonstrated that there had been recurrent selective events in the upstream and the downstream regions of KITLG in Eurasian populations. More importantly, besides the expected selection on the KITLG variants favoring light skin in coping with the weak UV radiation at high latitude, we observed a KITLG variant showing adaptation to winter temperature. In particular, compared with UV radiation, winter temperature showed a much stronger correlation with the prevalence of the presumably adaptive KITLG allele in Asian populations. This observation was further supported by the in vitro functional test at low temperature. Consequently, the pleiotropic effects of KITLG, that is, pigmentation and thermogenesis were both targeted by natural selection that acted on different KITLG sequence variants, contributing to the adaptation of Eurasians to both UV radiation and winter temperature at high latitude areas.

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