Extensive changes in the expression of the opioid genes between humans and chimpanzees.
The various means by which the body perceives, transmits, and resolves the experiences of pain and nociception are mediated by a host of molecules, including neuropeptides within the opioid gene signaling pathway. The peptide ligands and receptors encoded by this group of genes have been linked to behavioral disorders as well as a number of psychiatric affective disorders. Our aim was to explore the recent evolutionary history of these two gene families by taking a comparative genomics approach, specifically through a comparison between humans and chimpanzees. Our analyses indicate differential expression of these genes between the two species, more than expected based on genome-wide comparisons, indicating that differential expression is pervasive among the opioid genes. Of the 8 family members, three genes showed significant expression differences (PENK, PNOC, and OPRL1), with two others marginally significant (OPRM1 and OPRD1). Accelerated substitution rates along human and chimpanzee lineages within the putative regulatory regions of OPRM1, POMC, and PDYN between the human and chimpanzee branches are consistent with positive selection. Collectively, these results suggest that there may have been a selective advantage to modulating the expression of the opioid genes in humans compared with our closest living relatives. Information about the cognitive roles mediated by these genes in humans may help to elucidate the trait consequences of these putatively adaptive expression changes.
Cruz-Gordillo, P; Fedrigo, O; Wray, GA; Babbitt, CC
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