Human Biology Open Access Pre-Prints

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N-acetyltransferase 2 (NAT2) is an important enzyme involved in the metabolism of a wide spectrum of naturally occurring xenobiotics, including therapeutic drugs and common environmental carcinogens. Extensive polymorphism in NAT2 gives rise to a wide interindividual variation in acetylation capacity which influences individual susceptibility to various drug-induced adverse reactions and cancers. Striking patterns of geographic differentiation have been described for the main slow acetylation variants of the NAT2 gene, suggesting the action of natural selection at this locus. In the present study, we took advantage of the whole-genome sequence data available from the 1000 Genomes project to investigate the global patterns of population genetic differentiation at NAT2 and determine whether they are atypical compared to the remaining variation of the genome. The non-synonymous substitution c.590G>A (rs1799930) defining the slow NAT2*6 haplotype cluster exhibited an unusually low FST value when compared to the genome average (FST = 0.006, P-value = 0.016). It was pointed out as the most likely target of a homogenizing process of selection promoting the same allelic variant in globally distributed populations. The rs1799930 A allele has been associated with the slowest acetylation capacity in vivo and its substantial correlation with the subsistence strategy adopted by past human populations suggests that it may have conferred a selective advantage in populations shifting from foraging to agricultural and pastoral activities in the Neolithic period. Results of neutrality tests further supported an adaptive evolution of the NAT2 gene through either balancing selection or directional selection acting on multiple standing slow-causing variants.