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A method for estimating the intensity of overdominant selection from the distribution of allele frequencies.

  • M Slatkin
  • C A Muirhead
Publication Date
Dec 01, 2000


A method is proposed for estimating the intensity of overdominant selection scaled by the effective population size, S = 2Ns, from allele frequencies. The method is based on the assumption that, with strong overdominant selection, allele frequencies are nearly at their deterministic equilibrium values and that, to a first approximation, deviations depend only on S. Simulations verify that reasonably accurate estimates of S can be obtained for realistic sample sizes. The method is applied to data from several loci in the major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) in numerous human populations. For alleles distinguished by both serological typing and the sequence of the peptide-binding region, our estimates of S are comparable to those obtained by analysis of DNA sequences in showing that selection is strongest on HLA-B and weaker on HLA-A, HLA-DRB1, and HLA-DQA1. The intensity of selection on HLA-B varied considerably among populations. Two populations, Native American and Inuit, showed an excess rather than a deficiency in homozygosity. Comparable estimates of S were obtained for alleles at Mhc class II loci distinguished by serological reactions (serotyping) and by differences in the amino acid sequences of the peptide-binding region (molecular typing). A comparison of two types of data for DQA1 and DRB1 showed that serotyping led to generally lower estimates of S.

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