Inferred divergent gene regulation in archaic hominins reveals potential phenotypic differences.
Sequencing DNA derived from archaic bones has enabled genetic comparison of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans (AMHs), and revealed that they interbred. However, interpreting what genetic differences imply about their phenotypic differences remains challenging. Here, we introduce an approach for identifying divergent gene regulation between archaic hominins, such as Neanderthals, and AMH sequences, and find 766 genes that are likely to have been divergently regulated (DR) by Neanderthal haplotypes that do not remain in AMHs. DR genes include many involved in phenotypes known to differ between Neanderthals and AMHs, such as the structure of the rib cage and supraorbital ridge development. They are also enriched for genes associated with spontaneous abortion, polycystic ovary syndrome, myocardial infarction and melanoma. Phenotypes associated with modern human variation in these genes' regulation in ~23,000 biobank patients further support their involvement in immune and cardiovascular phenotypes. Comparing DR genes between two Neanderthals and a Denisovan revealed divergence in the immune system and in genes associated with skeletal and dental morphology that are consistent with the archaeological record. These results establish differences in gene regulatory architecture between AMHs and archaic hominins, and provide an avenue for exploring phenotypic differences between archaic groups from genomic information alone.