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Comparative analyses of chromatin landscape in white adipose tissue suggest humans may have less beigeing potential than other primates

By Devjanee Swain-Lenz, Alejandro Berrio, Alexias Safi, Gregory E. Crawford, Gregory A. Wray

Posted 18 Jan 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/524868 (published DOI: 10.1093/gbe/evz134)

Humans carry a much larger percentage of body fat than other primates. Despite the central role of adipose tissue in metabolism, little is known about the evolution of white adipose tissue in primates. Phenotypic divergence is often caused by genetic divergence in cis-regulatory regions. We examined the cis-regulatory landscape of fat during human origins by performing comparative analyses of chromatin accessibility in human and chimpanzee adipose tissue using macaque as an outgroup. We find that many cis-regulatory regions that are specifically closed in humans are under positive selection, located near genes involved with lipid metabolism, and contain a short sequence motif involved in the beigeing of fat, the process in which white adipocytes are transdifferentiated into beige adipocytes. While the primary role of white adipocytes is to store lipids, beige adipocytes are thermogeneic. The collective closing of many putative regulatory regions associated with beiging of fat suggests an adaptive mechanism that increases body fat in humans.

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