Many of us carry Neanderthal genes, thanks to interbreeding 60,000 years ago and this could have a big impact on how we absorb drugs, a new study has shown.
For a drug to be effective and not harmful, it must be administered at the right dose, but people with Neanderthal genes eliminate drugs such as warfarin, a blood thinner, differently.
The genetic variants could mean that a dose of drug that would normally be effective is actually toxic, the researchers warn.
Genetic variants are carried by 20% of current Europeans.
Neanderthals were a group of ancient humans who populated Europe and Asia before the arrival of modern humans.
When modern humans and Neanderthals met, they intermingled – so people with roots outside of Africa tend to carry one to two percent of their genome from Neanderthals.
Researchers say that certain enzymes in the body eliminate drugs and the activity of these enzymes varies from individual to individual.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have studied enzyme variants that are less efficient at eliminating drugs and are inherited from Neanderthals.
Precision medicine aims to personalize health care, with treatments adapted to each patient.
The hope is that patients will be prescribed drugs in the right dosage, which are right for them, based on genetic and other factors.
It is well known that genetic variants in the genes encoding enzymes of the cytochrome P450 family affect the efficiency of these enzymes.
In the study published in The Pharmacogenomics Journal, researchers found that two of the most important genetic variants influencing the ability to eliminate drugs are inherited from Neanderthals.
The study, led by Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, identified a segment of DNA inherited from Neanderthals, carrying two cytochrome P450 enzymes.
These enzymes eliminate many common drugs such as warfarin, a blood thinner, phenytoin, an antiepileptic, statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and common painkillers, such as ibuprofen.
Neanderthal variants of enzymes are generally less effective at removing drugs.
Researcher Hugo Zeberg, a researcher in the Department of Neuroscience and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Karolinska Institutet, said: “This is a case where mixing with Neanderthals has a direct clinical impact. Otherwise, therapeutic doses can be toxic to carriers of the Neanderthal gene variant.
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