Dannemann M, Milaneschi Y, Yermakovich D, Stiglbauer V, Kariis HM, Krebs K, Friese MA, Otte C; Estonian Biobank Research Team, Lehto K, Penninx BWJH, Kelso J, Gold SM.

Despite advances in identifying the genetic basis of psychiatric and neurological disorders, fundamental questions about their evolutionary origins remain elusive. Here, introgressed variants from archaic humans such as Neandertals can serve as an intriguing research paradigm. We compared the number of associations for Neandertal variants to the number of associations of frequency-matched non-archaic variants with regard to human CNS disorders (neurological and psychiatric), nervous system drug prescriptions (as a proxy for disease), and related, non-disease phenotypes in the UK biobank (UKBB). While no enrichment for Neandertal genetic variants were observed in the UKBB for psychiatric or neurological disease categories, we found significant associations with certain behavioral phenotypes including pain, chronotype/sleep, smoking and alcohol consumption. In some instances, the enrichment signal was driven by Neandertal variants that represented the strongest association genome-wide. SNPs within a Neandertal haplotype that was associated with smoking in the UKBB could be replicated in four independent genomics datasets.Our data suggest that evolutionary processes in recent human evolution like admixture with Neandertals significantly contribute to behavioral phenotypes but not psychiatric and neurological diseases. These findings help to link genetic variants in a population to putative past beneficial effects, which likely only indirectly contribute to pathology in modern day humans. 

Transl Psychiatry. 2022 Oct5;12(1):433

Link to Pubmed