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Geographic Distribution of Disease Mutations in the Ashkenazi Jewish Population Supports Genetic Drift over Selection

The American Journal of Human Genetics
DOI: 10.1086/373882
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  • Medicine


The presence of four lysosomal storage diseases (LSDs) at increased frequency in the Ashkenazi Jewish population has suggested to many the operation of natural selection (carrier advantage) as the driving force. We compare LSDs and nonlysosomal storage diseases (NLSDs) in terms of the number of mutations, allele-frequency distributions, and estimated coalescence dates of mutations. We also provide new data on the European geographic distribution, in the Ashkenazi population, of seven LSD and seven NLSD mutations. No differences in any of the distributions were observed between LSDs and NLSDs. Furthermore, no regular pattern of geographic distribution was observed for LSD versus NLSD mutations—with some being more common in central Europe and others being more common in eastern Europe, within each group. The most striking disparate pattern was the geographic distribution of the two primary Tay-Sachs disease mutations, with the first being more common in central Europe (and likely older) and the second being exclusive to eastern Europe (primarily Lithuania and Russia) (and likely much younger). The latter demonstrates a pattern similar to two other recently arisen Lithuanian mutations, those for torsion dystonia and familial hypercholesterolemia. These observations provide compelling support for random genetic drift (chance founder effects, one ∼11 centuries ago that affected all Ashkenazim and another ∼5 centuries ago that affected Lithuanians), rather than selection, as the primary determinant of disease mutations in the Ashkenazi population.

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