Several scenarios can be envisioned to explain the unusual genetic variation observed at the NE1 locus: (1) recent Neandertal admixture exclusively with Eurasian populations, (2) back migration to Africa from Eurasia after Neandertal admixture with Eurasian populations, and (3) ancient African substructure maintained since before Human-Neandertal divergence (Figure 3A).Thinking about the last sentence, paleoanthropological studies only report interactions between Neandertals and modern humans in "parts of outside Africa", but the signal of Neandertal admixture exists all over "outside Africa". It is not incoceivable that Neandertal-admixed Eurasians back-migrated into Africa and introduced NE1 to African populations. Such hypothetical back-migrants would not appear Neandertaloid in tha paleoanthropological sense. The authors consider this possibility:
The presence of African NE1 haplotypes does not support the first scenario of exclusive Neandertal admixture with Eurasian populations. Recent reports have suggested that Neandertals and Denisovans contributed their genetic material to present-day Eurasian populations and Melanesians, respectively , . However, the variation that we observe at the NE1 locus is not consistent with direct archaic hominin admixture as discussed in these publications. We did not consider Neandertal admixture into ancient African populations because of paleoanthropological studies that only report interactions between Neandertals and modern humans outside of Africa .
The second scenario assumes back migration into Africa from Eurasian populations after the admixture of Neandertal with Eurasian populations . If such admixture occurred, the African NE1 haplotypes should represent a subset of Eurasian NE1 haplotypes. To test this, we again analyzed the phase 1 data of the 1000 Genomes Project, which includes 338 haplotypes from three African populations. Using this dataset, we found that variation within African NE1 haplotypes is significantly higher than variation within Asian and European NE1 haplotypes (p less than 10-15, Figure 3C, Figure S5). This result indicates that African NE1 haplotypes have a longer coalescence and, as such, the presence of the NE1 haplogroup among modern Africans cannot be explained by simple back migration and admixture of Eurasian haplotypes to African populations.But, it is possible that the higher variation within African NE1 haplotypes may reflect introgression of short "Palaeoafrican" variants within the African NE1 haplotypes. Such variants would appear as excess variation, but would not be "provable" as introgression in the absence of a comparative archaic African genome. This is a recurring theme, that (part of?) the African-Eurasian diversity differential can be explained both in terms of loss of diversity in an Out-of-Africa bottleneck and a gain-of-diversity in In-Africa admixture events between divergent populations that must have lived in the large and ecologically diverse continent. Which brings us to scenario #3:
The third scenario represents the persistence of an old African substructure at the NE1 locus before the Human-Neandertal divergence (Figure 3A). This scenario explains the presence of NE1 haplotypes (that are similar to the Neandertal haplotype) among modern human populations as well as the deep, distinct lineages observed among African NE1 haplotypes. To corroborate this conclusion, we estimated the coalescence of NE1 haplotypes through network analysis (Figure S6) and found a coalescence time of between ~437 K and ~993 K years before present (YBP) for African NE1 haplotypes and ~134 K YBP and ~304 K YBP for European NE1 haplotypes. These observations collectively suggest that the most parsimonious explanation for the observed variation at the NE1 locus is that the NE1/nonNE1 haplogroups arose after the human-chimpanzee common ancestor, but before the Human-Neandertal split in Africa. As such, the variation at the NE1 locus has persisted within ancient African substructure and later spread to non-African populations.
PLoS Genet 9(4): e1003404. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003404
Balancing Selection on a Regulatory Region Exhibiting Ancient Variation That Predates Human–Neandertal Divergence
Omer Gokcumen et al.
Ancient population structure shaping contemporary genetic variation has been recently appreciated and has important implications regarding our understanding of the structure of modern human genomes. We identified a ~36-kb DNA segment in the human genome that displays an ancient substructure. The variation at this locus exists primarily as two highly divergent haplogroups. One of these haplogroups (the NE1 haplogroup) aligns with the Neandertal haplotype and contains a 4.6-kb deletion polymorphism in perfect linkage disequilibrium with 12 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across diverse populations. The other haplogroup, which does not contain the 4.6-kb deletion, aligns with the chimpanzee haplotype and is likely ancestral. Africans have higher overall pairwise differences with the Neandertal haplotype than Eurasians do for this NE1 locus (p less than 10-15). Moreover, the nucleotide diversity at this locus is higher in Eurasians than in Africans. These results mimic signatures of recent Neandertal admixture contributing to this locus. However, an in-depth assessment of the variation in this region across multiple populations reveals that African NE1 haplotypes, albeit rare, harbor more sequence variation than NE1 haplotypes found in Europeans, indicating an ancient African origin of this haplogroup and refuting recent Neandertal admixture. Population genetic analyses of the SNPs within each of these haplogroups, along with genome-wide comparisons revealed significant FST (p = 0.00003) and positive Tajima's D (p = 0.00285) statistics, pointing to non-neutral evolution of this locus. The NE1 locus harbors no protein-coding genes, but contains transcribed sequences as well as sequences with putative regulatory function based on bioinformatic predictions and in vitro experiments. We postulate that the variation observed at this locus predates Human–Neandertal divergence and is evolving under balancing selection, especially among European populations.