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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Critical Care and Emergency Medicine

The Loss of Functional Caspase-12 in Europe Is a Pre-Neolithic Event
Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Author: Montserrat Hervella et al.

by Montserrat Hervella, Theo S. Plantinga, Santos Alonso, Bart Ferwerda, Neskuts Izagirre, Lara Fontecha, Rosa Fregel, Jos W. M. van der Meer, Concepcion de-la-Rúa, Mihai G. Netea

Background

Caspase-12 (CASP12) modulates the susceptibility to sepsis. In humans, the “C” allele at CASP12 rs497116 has been associated with an increased risk of sepsis. Instead, the derived “T” allele encodes for an inactive caspase-12. Interestingly, Eurasians are practically fixed for the inactive variant, whereas in Sub-Saharan Africa the active variant is still common (~24%). This marked structure has been explained as a function of the selective advantage that the inactive caspase-12 confers by increasing resistance to infection. As regards to both when positive selection started acting and as to the speed with which fixation was achieved in Eurasia, estimates depend on the method and assumptions used, and can vary substantially. Using experimental evidence, we propose that, least in Eurasia, the increase in the frequency of the T allele might be related to the selective pressure exerted by the increase in zoonotic diseases transmission caused by the interplay between increased human population densities and a closer contact with animals during the Neolithic.

Methodolog/Principal Findings

We genotyped CASP12 rs497116 in prehistoric individuals from 6 archaeological sites from the North of the Iberian Peninsula that date from Late Upper Paleolithic to Late Neolithic. DNA extraction was done from teeth lacking cavities or breakages using standard anti-contamination procedures, including processing of the samples in a positive pressure, ancient DNA-only chamber, quantitation of DNAs by qPCR, duplication, replication, genotyping of associated animals, or cloning of PCR products. Out of 50, 24 prehistoric individuals could finally be genotyped for rs497116. Only the inactive form of CASP12 was found.

Conclusions/Significance

We demonstrate that the loss of caspase-12 in Europe predates animal domestication and that consequently CASP12 loss is unlikely to be related to the impact of zoonotic infections transmitted by livestock.

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