The role of Neanderthal introgression in liver cancer

Angela M. Taravella Oill, Kenneth H. Buetow, Melissa A. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Neanderthal introgressed DNA has been linked to different normal and disease traits including immunity and metabolism—two important functions that are altered in liver cancer. However, there is limited understanding of the relationship between Neanderthal introgression and liver cancer risk. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between Neanderthal introgression and liver cancer risk. Methods: Using germline and somatic DNA and tumor RNA from liver cancer patients from The Cancer Genome Atlas, along with ancestry-match germline DNA from unaffected individuals from the 1000 Genomes Resource, and allele specific expression data from normal liver tissue from The Genotype-Tissue Expression project we investigated whether Neanderthal introgression impacts cancer etiology. Using a previously generated set of Neanderthal alleles, we identified Neanderthal introgressed haplotypes. We then tested whether somatic mutations are enriched or depleted on Neanderthal introgressed haplotypes compared to modern haplotypes. We also computationally assessed whether somatic mutations have a functional effect or show evidence of regulating expression of Neanderthal haplotypes. Finally, we compared patterns of Neanderthal introgression in liver cancer patients and the general population. Results: We find Neanderthal introgressed haplotypes exhibit an excess of somatic mutations compared to modern haplotypes. Variant Effect Predictor analysis revealed that most of the somatic mutations on these Neanderthal introgressed haplotypes are not functional. We did observe expression differences of Neanderthal alleles between tumor and normal for four genes that also showed a pattern of enrichment of somatic mutations on Neanderthal haplotypes. However, gene expression was similar between liver cancer patients with modern ancestry and liver cancer patients with Neanderthal ancestry at these genes. Provocatively, when analyzing all genes, we find evidence of Neanderthal introgression regulating expression in tumor from liver cancer patients in two genes, ARK1C4 and OAS1. Finally, we find that most genes do not show a difference in the proportion of Neanderthal introgression between liver cancer patients and the general population. Conclusion: Our results suggest that Neanderthal introgression provides opportunity for somatic mutations to accumulate, and that some Neanderthal introgression may impact liver cancer risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number255
JournalBMC Medical Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Immune function
  • Introgression
  • Liver cancer
  • Metabolism
  • Neanderthal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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