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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Timing and deciphering mitochondrial DNA macro-haplogroup R0 variability in Central Europe and Middle East

Anita Brandstätter12, Bettina Zimmermann1, Janine Wagner13, Tanja Göbel14, Alexander W Röck5, Antonio Salas6, Angel Carracedo6 and Walther Parson1*

Author affiliations

1 Institute of Legal Medicine, Innsbruck Medical University, Innsbruck, Austria

2 Division of Genetic Epidemiology, Department of Medical Genetics, Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, Innsbruck Medical University, Innsbruck, Austria

3 Research Center for Agriculture and Forestry Laimburg, Auer, Italy

4 Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany

5 Institute of Mathematics, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria

6 Institute of Legal Medicine, Genomic Medicine Group, CIBERER, University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:191  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-191

Published: 4 July 2008



Nearly half of the West Eurasian assemblage of human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is fractioned into numerous sub-lineages of the predominant haplogroup (hg) R0. Several hypotheses have been proposed on the origin and the expansion times of some R0 sub-lineages, which were partially inconsistent with each other. Here we describe the phylogenetic structure and genetic variety of hg R0 in five European populations and one population from the Middle East.


Our analysis of 1,350 mtDNA haplotypes belonging to R0, including entire control region sequences and 45 single nucleotide polymorphisms from the coding region, revealed significant differences in the distribution of different sub-hgs even between geographically closely located regions. Estimates of coalescence times that were derived using diverse algorithmic approaches consistently affirmed that the major expansions of the different R0 hgs occurred in the terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene.


Given an estimated coalescence time of the distinct lineages of 10 – 18 kya, the differences in the distributions could hint to either limited maternal gene flow after the Last Glacial Maximum due to the alpine nature of the regions involved or to a stochastic loss of diversity due to environmental events and/or disease episodes occurred at different times and in distinctive regions. Our comparison of two different ways of obtaining the timing of the most recent common ancestor confirms that the time of a sudden expansion can be adequately recovered from control region data with valid confidence intervals. For reliable estimates, both procedures should be applied in order to cross-check the results for validity and soundness.