Effects of genome-wide heterozygosity on a range of biomedically relevant human quantitative traits

Harry Campbell, Andrew D Carothers, Igor Rudan, Caroline Hayward, Zrinka Biloglav, Lovorka Barac, Marijana Pericic, Branka Janicijevic, Nina Smolej-Narancic, Ozren Polasek, Ivana Kolcic, James L Weber, Nicholas D Hastie, Pavao Rudan, Alan F Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The dramatic changes in human population structure over the last 200 years have resulted in significant levels of outbreeding, which, in turn, is predicted to lead to increased levels of individual genetic diversity (genome-wide heterozygosity, h). To investigate possible effects of these large demographic changes on global health, we studied the effect of h, measured as relative heterozygosity, h(R), on 15 disease-related traits in four groups of individuals with widely differing ancestral histories (ranging from outbred to inbred) from the Dalmatian islands in Croatia. Higher levels of h(R), estimated using 1184 STR/indel markers, were found in the outbred group (P <0.0001) and were associated with lower blood pressure (BP) and total/LDL cholesterol (P = 0.01 and 0.01, respectively) after controlling for other factors, with BP showing a strong sex effect (males P > 0.5 and females P = 0.002). These findings, if replicated, suggest that h(R) be considered as a genetic risk factor in genetic epidemiological studies on common disease traits. They are consistent with the well-known effects of heterosis (hybrid vigour) described when outcrossing animals and plants. Outbreeding resulting from urbanization and migration from traditional population subgroups may be leading to increasing h(R) and may have beneficial effects on a range of traits associated with human health and disease. Other traits, such as age at menarche, IQ and lifespan, which have been changing during the decades of urbanization, may also have been influenced by demographic factors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-41
Number of pages9
JournalHuman Molecular Genetics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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