Comparative genomics offers a novel approach to unravel the genetic basis of complex traits. We performed a two stage analysis where genes ascertained for enhanced protein evolution in primates are subsequently searched for the presence of non-synonymous coding SNPs in the current human population at amino acid sites that differ between humans and chimpanzee. Positively selected genes among primates are generally presumed to determine phenotypic differences between humans and chimpanzee, such as the enhanced cognitive ability of our species. Amino acid substitutions segregating in humans at positively selected amino acid sites are expected to affect phenotypic differences among humans. Therefore we conducted an association study in two family based cohorts and one population based cohort between cognitive ability and the most likely candidate gene among the five that harbored more than one such polymorphism. The derived, human-specific allele of the beta-2 adrenergic receptor Arg16Gly polymorphism was found to be the increaser allele for performance IQ in the young, family based cohort but the decreaser allele for two different measures of cognition in the large Scottish cohort of unrelated individuals. The polymorphism is known to affect signaling activity and modulation of beta-2 adrenergic signaling has been shown to adjust memory consolidation, a trait related to cognition. The opposite effect of the polymorphism on cognition in the two age classes observed in the different cohorts resembles the effect of ADRB2 on hypertension, which also has been reported to be age dependent. This result illustrates the relevance of comparative genomics to detect genes that are involved in human behavior.

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Keywords Comparative genomics, Functional polymorphism, Genetic association, Human evolution, IQ
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Bochdanovits, Z., Gosso, F.M., van den Berg, L., Rizzu, P., Polderman, T.J.C., Pardo Cortes, L.M., … Posthuma, D.. (2009). A functional polymorphism under positive evolutionary selection in ADRB2 is associated with human intelligence with opposite effects in the young and the elderly. Behavior Genetics, 39(1), 15–23. doi:10.1007/s10519-008-9233-0