Chromatin activity identifies differential gene regulation across human ancestries

Kade P. Pettie, Maxwell Mumbach, Amanda J. Lea, Julien Ayroles, Howard Y. Chang, Maya Kasowski, Hunter B. Fraser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Current evidence suggests that cis-regulatory elements controlling gene expression may be the predominant target of natural selection in humans and other species. Detecting selection acting on these elements is critical to understanding evolution but remains challenging because we do not know which mutations will affect gene regulation. Results: To address this, we devise an approach to search for lineage-specific selection on three critical steps in transcriptional regulation: chromatin activity, transcription factor binding, and chromosomal looping. Applying this approach to lymphoblastoid cells from 831 individuals of either European or African descent, we find strong signals of differential chromatin activity linked to gene expression differences between ancestries in numerous contexts, but no evidence of functional differences in chromosomal looping. Moreover, we show that enhancers rather than promoters display the strongest signs of selection associated with sites of differential transcription factor binding. Conclusions: Overall, our study indicates that some cis-regulatory adaptation may be more easily detected at the level of chromatin than DNA sequence. This work provides a vast resource of genomic interaction data from diverse human populations and establishes a novel selection test that will benefit future study of regulatory evolution in humans and other species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21
JournalGenome biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Cell Biology


  • Activity-by-Contact
  • Cis-regulation
  • Directional selection
  • Enhancer
  • Gene expression
  • HiChIP
  • Human
  • LCL
  • bQTL


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