Analysis of differentially methylated regions in primates and non-primates provides support for the evolutionary hypothesis of schizophrenia
Introduction: The persistence of schizophrenia in human populations separated by geography and time led to the evolutionary hypothesis that proposes schizophrenia as a by-product of the higher cognitive abilities of modern humans. To explore this hypothesis, we used here an evolutionary epigenetics approach building on differentially methylated regions (DMRs) of the genome. Methods: We implemented a polygenic enrichment testing pipeline using the summary statistics of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of schizophrenia and 12 other phenotypes. We investigated the enrichment of association of these traits across genomic regions with variable methylation between modern humans and great apes (orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas; primate DMRs) and between modern humans and recently extinct hominids (Neanderthals and Denisovans; non-primate DMRs). Results: Regions that are hypo-methylated in humans compared to great apes show enrichment of association with schizophrenia only if the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) region is included. With the MHC region removed from the analysis, only a modest enrichment for SNPs of low effect persists. The INRICH pipeline confirms this finding after rigorous permutation and bootstrapping procedures. Conclusion: The analyses of regions with differential methylation changes in humans and great apes do not provide compelling evidence of enrichment of association with schizophrenia, in contrast to our previous findings on more recent methylation differences between modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans. Our results further support the evolutionary hypothesis of schizophrenia and indicate that the origin of some of the genetic susceptibility factors of schizophrenia may lie in recent human evolution.
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