Natural selection and dopamine receptor genes

By Razib Khan | March 9, 2012 6:50 am

Long time readers will be familiar with the large literature in behavior genetics/genomics and dopamine receptor genes. So with that, I point you to a paper exploring the patterns of variation and their relationship to possible natural selection, No Evidence for Strong Recent Positive Selection Favoring the 7 Repeat Allele of VNTR in the DRD4 Gene:

The human dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) gene contains a 48-bp variable number of tandem repeat (VNTR) in exon 3, encoding the third intracellular loop of this dopamine receptor. The DRD4 7R allele, which seems to have a single origin, is commonly observed in various human populations and the nucleotide diversity of the DRD4 7R haplotype at the DRD4 locus is reduced compared to the most common DRD4 4R haplotype. Based on these observations, previous studies have hypothesized that positive selection has acted on the DRD4 7R allele. However, the degrees of linkage disequilibrium (LD) of the DRD4 7R allele with single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) outside the DRD4 locus have not been evaluated. In this study, to re-examine the possibility of recent positive selection favoring the DRD4 7R allele, we genotyped HapMap subjects for DRD4 VNTR, and conducted several neutrality tests including long range haplotype test and iHS test based on the extended haplotype homozygosity. Our results indicated that LD of the DRD4 7R allele was not extended compared to SNP alleles with the similar frequency. Thus, we conclude that the DRD4 7R allele has not been subjected to strong recent positive selection.

In that vein, I also stumbled upon this paper recently, Contrasting signals of positive selection in genes involved in human skin-color variation from tests based on SNP scans and resequencing:

Applying all commonly used neutrality-test statistics for allele frequency distribution to the newly generated sequence data provided conflicting results regarding evidence for positive selection. Previous haplotype-based findings could not be clearly confirmed. Although some tests were marginally significant for some populations and genes, none of them were significant after multiple-testing correction. Combined P values for each gene-population pair did not improve these results. Application of Approximate Bayesian Computation Markov chain Monte Carlo based to these sequence data using a simple forward simulator revealed broad posterior distributions of the selective parameters for all four genes, providing no support for positive selection. However, when we applied this approach to published sequence data on SLC45A2, another human pigmentation candidate gene, we could readily confirm evidence for positive selection, as previously detected with sequence-based and some haplotype-based tests.

Please note that they didn’t check for selection at SLC24A5. This probably would yielded some evidence of selection.

Both papers are open access, so I invite readers to take a look for themselves.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, Genomics
MORE ABOUT: Selection
  • John Hawks

    The DRD4 result goes along with something I’ve been seeing.

    The pigmentation paper is flawed because it is looking for complete sweeps. We’re running tests now using whole genome data and having some success confirming partial sweeps, but have already found some mismatches with long-range haplotype inferences.

  • Justin Loe

    I believe that DRD4 is one of those genes that has had very mixed findings, particularly for the novelty seeking trait. The last time I checked, some reviewers had dismissed it as a factor in novelty seeking.

    To clarify, one controversy appears to be whether the VNTR of DRD4 is associated with NS or not, depending on which paper you read, as usual:

    “Our initial meta-analysis supported the association of the DRD4 C-521T polymorphism, but not the VNTR polymorphism, with approach-related traits. “

  • Colugo

    Doesn’t the DRD4 result strike anyone as a big flashing sign concerning the acceleration of selection paradigm? Isn’t that precisely the kind of genetic polymorphism with behavioral consequences that would be subject to accelerated selection? Indeed, for over a decade we’ve been reading about how it’s crucial in inter-population adaptative behavioral variation, cultural values, human migration, intra-group mortality etc. DRD4 is one of the superstars of the ‘human biodiversity’ research program of the past decade. (Kind of like microcephalin and ASPM – remember them?) So what’s going on?


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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