In Nunavik, a region that comprises the northern third of the province of Quebec in Canada, the Inuit population is genetically distinct from any other known human group and some of its variants are correlated with a cerebral aneurysm. This willingness to develop unique genetic traits is a common phenomenon in geographically isolated populations as a result of their successful adaptation to specific environments. They are adaptations, however, that make them vulnerable to certain health problems when the environment changes.
The Inuit of Canada, for example, have a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disorders and a higher incidence of cerebral aneurysms than the general population. To learn about the possible genetic origin of these disorders, researchers at The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital) at McGill University analyzed the genetic characteristics of 170 Inuit volunteers from Nunavik.
Using exome sequencing and genotyping of the entire genome, the researchers found several interesting features among the Inuit of Nunavik, whose closest relatives are the Paleo-Eskimos, a town that inhabited the Arctic before them. They found that they have different genetic lines that involve lipid metabolism and cell adhesion. These can be adaptations to adapt to the high fat diet and the extreme cold of northern Canada.
The work, published in the Proceedings magazine of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the first genetic study that highlights the genomic structure of this town. Non-European populations, particularly those isolated in remote areas of the world, are underrepresented, or not present at all, in genetics studies. Understanding the genetic makeup of non-European peoples, especially isolated populations with unique genetic backgrounds, such as the Nunavik Inuit, will improve our ability to offer medical therapies adapted to them, according to Guy Rouleau, lead author of the research.