Human Genetic Ancestral Composition Correlates with the Origin of Mycobacterium leprae Strains in a Leprosy Endemic Population.
Recent reports have suggested that leprosy originated in Africa, extended to Asia and Europe, and arrived in the Americas during European colonization and the African slave trade. Due to colonization, the contemporary Colombian population is an admixture of Native-American, European and African ancestries. Because microorganisms are known to accompany humans during migrations, patterns of human migration can be traced by examining genomic changes in associated microbes.
The current study analyzed 118 leprosy cases and 116 unrelated controls from two Colombian regions endemic for leprosy (Atlantic and Andean) in order to determine possible associations of leprosy with patient ancestral background (determined using 36 ancestry informative markers), Mycobacterium leprae genotype and/or patient geographical origin. We found significant differences between ancestral genetic composition. European components were predominant in Andean populations. In contrast, African components were higher in the Atlantic region. M. leprae genotypes were then analyzed for cluster associations and compared with the ancestral composition of leprosy patients. Two M. leprae principal clusters were found: haplotypes C54 and T45. Haplotype C54 associated with African origin and was more frequent in patients from the Atlantic region with a high African component. In contrast, haplotype T45 associated with European origin and was more frequent in Andean patients with a higher European component. These results suggest that the human and M. leprae genomes have co-existed since the African and European origins of the disease, with leprosy ultimately arriving in Colombia during colonization. Distinct M. leprae strains followed European and African settlement in the country and can be detected in contemporary Colombian populations.