Population genetics of IFIH1: Ancient population structure, local selection, and implications for susceptibility to type 1 diabetes

Matteo Fumagalli, Rachele Cagliani, Stefania Riva, Uberto Pozzoli, Mara Biasin, Luca Piacentini, Giacomo P. Comi, Nereo Bresolin, Mario Clerici, Manuela Sironi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The human interferon induced with helicase C domain 1 (IFIH1) gene encodes a sensor of double-strand RNA involved in innate immunity against viruses, indicating that this gene is a likely target of virus-driven selective pressure. Notably, IFIH1 also plays a role in autoimmunity, as common and rare polymorphisms in this gene have been associated with type 1 diabetes (T1D). We analyzed the evolutionary history of IFIH1 in human populations. Results herein suggest that two major IFIH1 haplotype clades originated from ancestral population structure (or balancing selection) in the African continent and that local selective pressures have acted on the gene. Specifically, directional selection in Europe and Asia resulted in the spread of a common IFIH1 haplotype carrying a derived His460 allele. This variant changes a highly conserved arginine residue in the helicase domain, possibly conferring altered specificity in viral recognition. An alternative common haplotype has swept to high frequency in South Americans as a result of recent positive selection. Previous studies suggested that a portion of risk alleles for autoimmune diseases could have been maintained in humans as they conferred a selective advantage against infections. This is not the case for IFIH1, as population genetic differentiation and haplotype analyses indicated that the T1D susceptibility alleles behaved as neutral or nearly neutral polymorphisms. Our findings suggest that variants in IFIH1 confer different susceptibility to diverse viral infections and provide insight into the relationship between adaptation to past infection and predisposition to autoimmunity in modern populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2555-2566
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


  • antiviral response
  • IFIH1
  • local selective pressure
  • population structure
  • positive selection
  • type 1 diabetes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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