Journal Article

Molecular genetics of human pigmentation diversity

Richard A. Sturm

in Human Molecular Genetics

Volume 18, issue R1, pages R9-R17
Published in print April 2009 | ISSN: 0964-6906
Published online April 2009 | e-ISSN: 1460-2083 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/hmg/ddp003
Molecular genetics of human pigmentation diversity

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The genetic basis underlying normal variation in the pigmentary traits of skin, hair and eye colour has been the subject of intense research directed at understanding the diversity seen both between and within human populations. A combination of approaches have been used including comparative genomics of candidate genes and the identification of regions of the human genome under positive selection, together with genome-wide and specific allele association studies. Independent selection for different pigmentation gene sets has been found between Asian, European and African populations. Several genome-wide association studies for pigmentation have now been conducted and identified single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers in known, TYR, TYRP1, OCA2, SLC45A2, SLC24A5, MC1R, ASIP, KITLG and previously unknown SLC24A4, IRF4, TPCN2, candidate genes. The contribution of SNP polymorphisms present in populations from South Asia have been tested and alleles found at TYR, SLC45A2 and SLC24A5 can largely account for differences between those of darkest and lightest skin reflectance using a simple additive model. Skin and hair colour associations in Europeans are found within a range of pigmentation gene alleles, whereas blue-brown eye colour can be explained by a single SNP proposed to regulate OCA2 expression. Functional testing of variant alleles has begun to connect phenotype correlations with biological differences. Variant MC1R alleles show direct correlations between the biochemical signalling properties of the encoded receptor and the red-hair fair skin pigmentation phenotype. Direct testing of a range of clonal melanocyte cultures derived from donor skin tissue characterized for three causal SNPs within SLC45A2, SLC24A5 and OCA2 has assessed their impact on melanin content and tyrosinase enzyme activity. From a culmination of genetic and functional studies, it is apparent that a number of genes impacting melanosome biogenesis or the melanin biosynthetic pathway are candidates to explain the diversity seen in human pigmentation.

Journal Article.  5345 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Genetics and Genomics

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