DNA Polymorphism and Selection at the Melanocortin-1 Receptor Gene in Normally Pigmented Southern African Individuals


Abstract: Skin pigmentation is a polygenic multifactorial trait determined by the cumulative effects of multiple genetic variants and environmental factors. Melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) is one of the genes involved in pigmentation, and has been implicated in the red hair and pale skin phenotype in human Caucasoid individuals. The present study was undertaken to identify variation at the MC1R locus in normally pigmented individuals in two African populations, sub-Saharan Negroids (22 unrelated individuals) and the San (17 unrelated individuals). The study showed considerable MC1R gene sequence variation with the detection of eight synonymous and three nonsynonymous mutations. This is the first report of nonsynonymous mutations in African individuals in the MC1R gene: L99I was found in a single San individual, S47I was detected in a single Negroid individual, and F196L was detected in five Negroid individuals (544; 0.11). The functional significance of these mutations is not known. Three of the eight synonymous mutations found, L106L (CTG → CTA), F300F (TTC → TTT), and T314T (ACA → ACG) (also known as A942G), have been reported previously. T314T was the only variant that showed a significant difference between the Negroid and San populations (0.477 and 0.059, respectively; P= 1.6× 10−5). Its low frequency in the San may be the result of random genetic drift in a population of small size, or selection. Several tests of neutrality of the MC1R coding region in these and other African populations were significant, suggesting that purifying selection (functional constraint) had occurred at this gene locus in Africans. This demonstrates that although some nonsynonymous MC1R mutations are tolerated in individuals with dark skin, this gene has likely played a significant role in the maintenance of dark pigmentation in Africans and normal pigment variation in non-African populations.

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences