• genetic;
  • genomic;
  • intellectual disability;
  • positive selection


Previous studies have postulated that X-linked and autosomal genes underlying human intellectual disability may have also mediated the evolution of human cognition. We have conducted the first comprehensive assessment of the extent and patterns of positive Darwinian selection on intellectual disability genes in humans. We report three main findings. First, as noted in some previous reports, intellectual disability genes with primary functions in the central nervous system exhibit a significant concentration to the X chromosome. Second, there was no evidence for a higher incidence of recent positive selection on X-linked than autosomal intellectual disability genes, nor was there a higher incidence of selection on such genes overall, compared to sets of control genes. However, the X-linked intellectual disability genes inferred to be subject to recent positive selection were concentrated in the Rho GTP-ase pathway, a key signaling pathway in neural development and function. Third, among all intellectual disability genes, there was evidence for a higher incidence of recent positive selection on genes involved in DNA repair, but not for genes involved in other functions. These results provide evidence that alterations to genes in the Rho GTP-ase and DNA-repair pathways may play especially-important roles in the evolution of human cognition and vulnerability to genetically-based intellectual disability.