Human expression QTLs are enriched in signals of environmental adaptation


Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs) have been found to be enriched in trait-associated single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). However, whether eQTLs are adaptive to different environmental factors and its relative evolutionary significance compared with nonsynonymous SNPs (NS SNPs) are still elusive. Compiling environmental correlation data from three studies formore than 500,000 SNPs and 42 environmental factors, including climate, subsistence, pathogens, and dietary patterns, we performed a systematic examination of the adaptive patterns of eQTLs to local environment.Compared with intergenic SNPs, eQTLs are significantly enriched in the lower tail of a transformed rank statistic in the environmental correlation analysis, indicating possible adaptation of eQTLs to the majority of 42 environmental factors. The mean enrichment of eQTLs across 42 environmental factors is as great as, if not greater than, thatofNS SNPs. The enrichmentof eQTLs, althoughsignificant across all levelsof recombinationrate, is inversely correlated with recombination rate, suggesting the presence of selective sweep or background selection. Further pathway enrichment analysis identified a number of pathways with possible environmental adaption from eQTLs. These pathways are mostly related with immune function and metabolism. Our results indicate that eQTLs might have played an important role in recent and ongoing human adaptation and are of special importance for some environmental factors and biological pathways.

Genome biology and evolution