Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Culture creates genetic structure in the Caucasus: Autosomal, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosomal variation in Daghestan

Elizabeth E Marchani1, W Scott Watkins2, Kazima Bulayeva3, Henry C Harpending1 and Lynn B Jorde2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anthropology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA

2 Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA

3 N.I. Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow 117991, Russia

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BMC Genetics 2008, 9:47  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-9-47

Published: 17 July 2008



Near the junction of three major continents, the Caucasus region has been an important thoroughfare for human migration. While the Caucasus Mountains have diverted human traffic to the few lowland regions that provide a gateway from north to south between the Caspian and Black Seas, highland populations have been isolated by their remote geographic location and their practice of patrilocal endogamy. We investigate how these cultural and historical differences between highland and lowland populations have affected patterns of genetic diversity. We test 1) whether the highland practice of patrilocal endogamy has generated sex-specific population relationships, and 2) whether the history of migration and military conquest associated with the lowland populations has left Central Asian genes in the Caucasus, by comparing genetic diversity and pairwise population relationships between Daghestani populations and reference populations throughout Europe and Asia for autosomal, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosomal markers.


We found that the highland Daghestani populations had contrasting histories for the mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome data sets. Y-chromosomal haplogroup diversity was reduced among highland Daghestani populations when compared to other populations and to highland Daghestani mitochondrial DNA haplogroup diversity. Lowland Daghestani populations showed Turkish and Central Asian affinities for both mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal data sets. Autosomal population histories are strongly correlated to the pattern observed for the mitochondrial DNA data set, while the correlation between the mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome distance matrices was weak and not significant.


The reduced Y-chromosomal diversity exhibited by highland Daghestani populations is consistent with genetic drift caused by patrilocal endogamy. Mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal phylogeographic comparisons indicate a common Near Eastern origin of highland populations. Lowland Daghestani populations show varying influence from Near Eastern and Central Asian populations.