Signatures of long-term balancing selection in human genomes

Bárbara D Bitarello, Cesare de Filippo, Joao C Teixeira, Joshua M Schmidt, Philip Kleinert, Diogo Meyer, Aida M Andrés

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Balancing selection maintains advantageous diversity in populations through various mechanisms. Although extensively explored from a theoretical perspective, an empirical understanding of its prevalence and targets lags behind our knowledge of positive selection. Here, we describe the Non-central Deviation (NCD), a simple yet powerful statistic to detect long-term balancing selection (LTBS) that quantifies how close frequencies are to expectations under LTBS, and provides the basis for a neutrality test. NCD can be applied to a single locus or genomic data, and can be implemented considering only polymorphisms (NCD1) or also considering fixed differences with respect to an outgroup (NCD2) species. Incorporating fixed differences improves power, and NCD2 has higher power to detect LTBS in humans under different frequencies of the balanced allele(s) than other available methods. Applied to genome-wide data from African and European human populations, in both cases using chimpanzee as an outgroup, NCD2 shows that, albeit not prevalent, LTBS affects a sizable portion of the genome: 0.6% of analyzed genomic windows and 0.8% of analyzed positions. Significant windows (P < 0.0001) contain 1.6% of SNPs in the genome, which disproportionally fall within exons and change protein sequence, but are not enriched in putatively regulatory sites. These windows overlap 8% of the protein-coding genes, and these have larger number of transcripts than expected by chance even after controlling for gene length. Our catalog includes known targets of LTBS but a majority of them (90%) are novel. As expected, immune-related genes are among those with the strongest signatures, although most candidates are involved in other biological functions, suggesting that LTBS potentially influences diverse human phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)939-955
Number of pages17
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Signatures
  • Long-Term Balancing
  • Human Genomes
  • Genome-wide scan
  • Summary statistic
  • Site frequency spectrum
  • Neutrality test
  • Natural selection
  • Overdominance


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