BACKGROUND: One of the most important dietary shifts underwent by human populations began to occur in the Neolithic, during which new modes of subsistence emerged and new nutrients were introduced in diets. This change might have worked as a selective pressure over the metabolic pathways involved in the breakdown of substances extracted from food. Here we applied a candidate gene approach to investigate whether in populations with different modes of subsistence, diet-related genetic adaptations could be identified in the genes AGXT, PLRP2, MTRR, NAT2 and CYP3A5. RESULTS: At CYP3A5, strong signatures of positive selection were detected, though not connected to any dietary variable, but instead to an environmental factor associated with the Tropic of Cancer. Suggestive signals of adaptions that could indeed be connected with differences in dietary habits of populations were only found for PLRP2 and NAT2. Contrarily, the demographic history of human populations seemed enough to explain patterns of diversity at AGXT and MTRR, once both conformed the evolutionary expectations under selective neutrality. CONCLUSIONS: Accumulated evidence indicates that CYP3A5 has been under adaptive evolution during the history of human populations. PLRP2 and NAT2 also appear to have been modelled by some selective constrains, although clear support for that did not resist to a genome wide perspective. It is still necessary to clarify which were the biological mechanisms and the environmental factors involved as well as their interactions, to understand the nature and strength of the selective pressures that contributed to shape current patterns of genetic diversity at those loci.
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