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Am J Hum Genet. 1994 Nov;55(5):975-80.

Is the flavin-deficient red blood cell common in Maremma, Italy, an important defense against malaria in this area?

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  • 1Divisione Pediatrica, Arcispedale S. Anna, Ferrara, Italy.


There is a high prevalence of a familial flavin-deficient red blood cell in Ferrara province in the Po delta in northern Italy, believed to have been selected for by malaria which was endemic from the 12th century. In the present study, activities of FAD-dependent red-cell glutathione reductase (EGR) in the Grosseto area of Maremma on the west coast of Italy where malaria was endemic from 300 B.C. are compared both with activities in the Ferrara area and with activities where there was no history of endemic malaria--in the Florence area and in London in people of Anglo-Saxon origin. EGR activities were similar in Grosseto and Ferrara and were significantly lower than in Florence and London. As previously found in Ferrara, low EGR activity in Grosseto was shown to be unrelated to low dietary riboflavin intake. These findings in Grosseto, suggesting selection by malaria, are particularly interesting because, unlike the situation in Ferrara and most other malarial areas, the prevalence of thalassemia and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency is very low, and they do not appear to have been selected for in Maremma. It is possible that a flavin-deficient red cell, known to inhibit growth of the malaria parasite, was an important protecting factor in the population of this area over the centuries.

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