Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Classical sickle beta-globin haplotypes exhibit a high degree of long-range haplotype similarity in African and Afro-Caribbean populations

Neil Hanchard15*, Abier Elzein2, Clare Trafford2, Kirk Rockett2, Margaret Pinder3, Muminatou Jallow3, Rosalind Harding4, Dominic Kwiatkowski2 and Colin McKenzie1

Author Affiliations

1 Tropical Metabolism Research Unit, Tropical Medicine Research Institute, University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica

2 Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

3 MRC Laboratories, Fajara, The Gambia

4 Departments of Zoology and Statistics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

5 Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA

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BMC Genetics 2007, 8:52  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-8-52

Published: 10 August 2007



The sickle (βs) mutation in the beta-globin gene (HBB) occurs on five "classical" βs haplotype backgrounds in ethnic groups of African ancestry. Strong selection in favour of the βs allele – a consequence of protection from severe malarial infection afforded by heterozygotes – has been associated with a high degree of extended haplotype similarity. The relationship between classical βs haplotypes and long-range haplotype similarity may have both anthropological and clinical implications, but to date has not been explored. Here we evaluate the haplotype similarity of classical βs haplotypes over 400 kb in population samples from Jamaica, The Gambia, and among the Yoruba of Nigeria (Hapmap YRI).


The most common βs sub-haplotype among Jamaicans and the Yoruba was the Benin haplotype, while in The Gambia the Senegal haplotype was observed most commonly. Both subtypes exhibited a high degree of long-range haplotype similarity extending across approximately 400 kb in all three populations. This long-range similarity was significantly greater than that seen for other haplotypes sampled in these populations (P < 0.001), and was independent of marker choice and marker density. Among the Yoruba, Benin haplotypes were highly conserved, with very strong linkage disequilibrium (LD) extending a megabase across the βs mutation.


Two different classical βs haplotypes, sampled from different populations, exhibit comparable and extensive long-range haplotype similarity and strong LD. This LD extends across the adjacent recombination hotspot, and is discernable at distances in excess of 400 kb. Although the multi-centric geographic distribution of βs haplotypes indicates strong subdivision among early Holocene sub-Saharan populations, we find no evidence that selective pressures imposed by falciparum malaria varied in intensity or timing between these subpopulations. Our observations also suggest that cis-acting loci, which may influence outcomes in sickle cell disease, could lie considerable distances away from β-globin.