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Detection of the CCR5-Δ32 HIV resistance gene in Bronze Age skeletons


A mutant allele of the chemokine receptor CCR5 gene (CCR5-Δ32), which confers resistance to HIV-1 infection, is believed to have originated from a single mutation event in historic times, and rapidly expanded in Caucasian populations, owing to an unknown selective advantage. Among other candidates, the plague bacillus Yersinia pestis was implicated as a potential source of strong selective pressure on European populations during medieval times. Here, we report amplifications of the CCR5-Δ32 DNA sequence from up to 2900-year-old skeletal remains from different burial sites in central Germany and southern Italy. Furthermore, the allele frequency of CCR5-Δ32 in victims of the 14th century plague pandemic in Lübeck/northern Germany was not different from a historic control group. Our findings indicate that this mutation was prevalent already among prehistoric Europeans. The results also argue against the possibility of plague representing a major selective force that caused rapid increase in CCR5-Δ32 gene frequencies within these populations.

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We thank A Rosenberger for detailed statistical analysis and S Flindt, L Klappauf and B Bramanti for the skeletal sample materials. The study was supported by a grant of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to SH.

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Correspondence to M Oppermann.

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Hummel, S., Schmidt, D., Kremeyer, B. et al. Detection of the CCR5-Δ32 HIV resistance gene in Bronze Age skeletons. Genes Immun 6, 371–374 (2005).

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