Human growth is a complex trait determined by genetic factors in combination with external stimuli, including environment, nutrition and hormonal status. In the past, several genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have collectively identified hundreds of genetic variants having a putative effect on determining adult height in different worldwide populations. Theoretically, a valuable approach to better understand the mechanisms of complex traits as adult height is to study a population exhibiting extreme stature phenotypes, such as African Baka Pygmies. After phenotypic characterization, we sequenced the whole exomes of a cohort of Baka Pygmies and their non-Pygmies Bantu neighbors to highlight genetic variants associated with the reduced stature. Whole exome data analysis revealed 29 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) significantly associated with the reduced height in the Baka group. Among these variants, we focused on SNP rs7629425, located in the 5′-UTR of the Hyaluronidase-2 (HYAL2) gene. The frequency of the alternative allele was significantly increased compared to African and non-African populations. In vitro luciferase assay showed significant differences in transcription modulation by rs7629425 C/T alleles. In conclusion, our results suggested that the HYAL2 gene variants may play a role in the etiology of short stature in Baka Pygmies population.
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