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J Neurochem. 2013 Aug;126 Suppl 1:11-20. doi: 10.1111/jnc.12215.

Prevalence gradients of Friedreich's ataxia and R1b haplotype in Europe co-localize, suggesting a common Palaeolithic origin in the Franco-Cantabrian ice age refuge.

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Independent Scientific Consultant, Riehen, Switzerland.


Combining data from epidemiological studies in Friedreich's Ataxia (FRDA) and patient organization membership lists, shows that FRDA prevalence exhibits large regional differences in Europe with a prevalence gradient from west to east. Highest levels are observed in northern Spain, south of France and Ireland, lowest levels in Scandinavia and Russia. The observed distribution of FRDA in Europe co-localizes with the gradient of the chromosomal R1b marker as detected within west Europe. This gradient is either derived from Palaeolithic migrations out of the Franco-Cantabrian Ice age refuge or from Neolithic migrations entering west Europe with the advance of agriculture. FRDA prevalence may have been increased in this population anytime after its separation from the closely related R1a carrying group. East European populations with a high frequency of the R1a marker show 10 fold lower prevalence of FRDA, indicating that the FRDA mutation was present in the common ancestor and was increased in the R1b carrying group. The FRDA carrying population went through a Palaeolithic population bottleneck supporting the view that the observed FRDA distribution and potentially the R1b distribution are derived from Palaeolithic migrations out of the Franco-Cantabrian ice age refuge.


Friedreich's Ataxia; Palaeolithic origin; R1b haplotype; prevalence in Europe

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