Original Article

Heredity (2011) 106, 37–45; doi:10.1038/hdy.2010.47; published online 21 April 2010

Using mitochondrial DNA to test the hypothesis of a European post-glacial human recolonization from the Franco-Cantabrian refuge

O García1,4, R Fregel2,4, J M Larruga2, V Álvarez3, I Yurrebaso1, V M Cabrera2 and A M González2

  1. 1Basque Country Forensic Genetics Laboratory, Erandio, Bizkaia, Spain
  2. 2Área de Genética, Departamento de Parasitología, Ecología y Genética, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de La Laguna (ULL), La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain
  3. 3Unidad de Genética, Hospital Universitario Central de Asturias, Oviedo, Asturias, Spain

Correspondence: Dr R Fregel, Departamento de Genética, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife 38270, Spain. E-mail: rfregel@gmail.com

4These authors contributed equally to this work.

Received 1 December 2009; Revised 23 February 2010; Accepted 18 March 2010; Published online 21 April 2010.



It has been proposed that the distribution patterns and coalescence ages found in Europeans for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroups V, H1 and H3 are the result of a post-glacial expansion from a Franco-Cantabrian refuge that recolonized central and northern areas. In contrast, in this refined mtDNA study of the Cantabrian Cornice that contributes 413 partial and 9 complete new mtDNA sequences, including a large Basque sample and a sample of Asturians, no experimental evidence was found to support the human refuge-expansion theory. In fact, all measures of gene diversity point to the Cantabrian Cornice in general and the Basques in particular, as less polymorphic for V, H1 and H3 than other southern regions in Iberia or in Central Europe. Genetic distances show the Cantabrian Cornice is a very heterogeneous region with significant local differences. The analysis of several minor subhaplogroups, based on complete sequences, also suggests different focal expansions over a local and peninsular range that did not affect continental Europe. Furthermore, all detected clinal trends show stronger longitudinal than latitudinal profiles. In Northern Iberia, it seems that the highest diversity values for some haplogroups with Mesolithic coalescence ages are centred on the Mediterranean side, including Catalonia and South-eastern France.


mtDNA haplogroups; humans; Franco-Cantabrian refuge theory