Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome variation in Ashkenazi Jewish and host non-Jewish European populations

The molecular basis of more than 25 genetic diseases has been described in Ashkenazi Jewish populations. Most of these diseases are characterized by one or two major founder mutations that are present in the Ashkenazi population at elevated frequencies. One explanation for this preponderance of recessive diseases is accentuated genetic drift resulting from a series of dispersals to and within Europe, endogamy, and/or recent rapid population growth. However, a clear picture of the manner in which neutral genetic variation has been affected by such a demographic history has not yet emerged. We have examined a set of 32 binary markers (single nucleotide polymorphisms; SNPs) and 10 microsatellites on the non-recombining portion of the Y chromosome (NRY) to investigate the ways in which patterns of variation differ between Ashkenazi Jewish and their non-Jewish host populations in Europe. This set of SNPs defines a total of 20 NRY haplogroups in these populations, at least four of which are likely to have been part of the ancestral Ashkenazi gene pool in the Near East, and at least three of which may have introgressed to some degree into Ashkenazi populations after their dispersal to Europe. It is striking that whereas Ashkenazi populations are genetically more diverse at both the SNP and STR level compared with their European non-Jewish counterparts, they have greatly reduced within-haplogroup STR variability, especially in those founder haplogroups that migrated from the Near East. This contrasting pattern of diversity in Ashkenazi populations is evidence for a reduction in male effective population size, possibly resulting from a series of founder events and high rates of endogamy within Europe. This reduced effective population size may explain the high incidence of founder disease mutations despite overall high levels of NRY diversity.

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Multiple Origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y Chromosome Evidence for Both Near Eastern and European Ancestries

Previous Y chromosome studies have shown that the Cohanim, a paternally inherited Jewish priestly caste, predominantly share a recent common ancestry irrespective of the geographically defined post-Diaspora community to which they belong, a finding consistent with common Jewish origins in the Near East. In contrast, the Levites, another paternally inherited Jewish caste, display evidence for multiple recent origins, with Ashkenazi Levites having a high frequency of a distinctive, non–Near Eastern haplogroup. Here, we show that the Ashkenazi Levite microsatellite haplotypes within this haplogroup are extremely tightly clustered, with an inferred common ancestor within the past 2,000 years. Comparisons with other Jewish and non-Jewish groups suggest that a founding event, probably involving one or very few European men occurring at a time close to the initial formation and settlement of the Ashkenazi community, is the most likely explanation for the presence of this distinctive haplogroup found today in >50% of Ashkenazi Levites.

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MtDNA evidence for a genetic bottleneck in the early history of the Ashkenazi Jewish population

The relative roles of natural selection and accentuated genetic drift as explanations for the high frequency of more than 20 Ashkenazi Jewish disease alleles remain controversial. To test for the effects of a maternal bottleneck on the Ashkenazi Jewish population, we performed an extensive analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) hypervariable segment 1 (HVS-1) sequence and restriction site polymorphisms in 565 Ashkenazi Jews from different parts of Europe. These patterns of variation were compared with those of five Near Eastern (n¼327) and 10 host European (n¼849) non-Jewish populations. Only four mtDNA haplogroups (Hgs) (defined on the basis of diagnostic coding region RFLPs and HVS-1 sequence variants) account for ~70% of Ashkenazi mtDNA variation. While several Ashkenazi Jewish mtDNA Hgs appear to derive from the Near East, there is also evidence for a low level of introgression from host European non-Jewish populations. HVS-1 sequence analysis revealed increased frequencies of Ashkenazi Jewish haplotypes that are rare or absent in other populations, and a reduced number of singletons in the Ashkenazi Jewish sample. These diversity patterns provide evidence for a prolonged period of low effective size in the history of the Ashkenazi population. The data best fit a model of an early bottleneck (~100 generations ago), perhaps corresponding to initial migrations of ancestral Ashkenazim in the Near East or to Europe. A genetic bottleneck followed by the recent phenomenon of rapid population growth are likely to have produced the conditions that led to the high frequency of many genetic disease alleles in the Ashkenazi population.

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Founding Mothers of Jewish Communities: Geographically Separated Jewish Groups Were Independently Founded by Very Few Female Ancestors

We have analyzed the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA from each of nine geographically separated Jewish groups, eight non-Jewish host populations, and an Israeli Arab/Palestinian population, and we have compared the differences found in Jews and non-Jews with those found using Y-chromosome data that were obtained, in most cases, from the same population samples. The results suggest that most Jewish communities were founded by relatively few women, that the founding process was independent in different geographic areas, and that subsequent genetic input from surrounding populations was limited on the female side. In sharp contrast to this, the paternally inherited Y chromosome shows diversity similar to that of neighboring populations and shows no evidence of founder effects. These sex-specific differences demonstrate an important role for culture in shaping patterns of genetic variation and are likely to have significant epidemiological implications for studies involving these populations. We illustrate this by presenting data from a panel of X-chromosome microsatellites, which indicates that, in the case of the Georgian Jews, the female-specific founder event appears to have resulted in elevated levels of linkage disequilibrium.

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Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 1 alpha Coding Mutations Are an Uncommon Contributor to Early-Onset Type 2 Diabetes in Ashkenazi Jews

Type 2 diabetes is a heterogeneous metabolic disorder of largely unknown genetic etiology. Maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) is a variant of this disorder that is distinguished by a dominant Mendelian genetic transmission and an early age of onset. The first gene to be incriminated in MODY was glucokinase, accounting for as much as perhaps 50% of the disease. More recently, a large number of mutations in the hepatocyte nuclear factor (HNF)-1 alpha gene have been described in MODY probands. Expanding on these studies of MODY, the HNF-1 alpha gene was found to contribute to more than one third of early onset familial type 2 diabetes in German subjects. Subsequently, a study of HNF-1 alpha in Japanese early-onset diabetes revealed a contribution of ~1 out of 12 subjects. The prevalence of HNF-1 alpha–related diabetes in this age-group is therefore divergent between populations of these two ethnic groups. As the frequency of mutations in this gene may ultimately determine the importance of clinical screening and therapy, we have endeavored to assess the contribution of HNF-1 alpha mutations to early-onset diabetes in another Caucasian population: Ashkenazi Jews. This distinct ethnic group is characterized by founder mutations for a number of inherited diseases, perhaps because of a genetic bottleneck that occurred as recently as 300–500 years ago.

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