Extremely high frequencies of alpha-globin gene deletion in Madang and on Kar Kar Island, Papua New Guinea

P T Yenchitsomanus, K M Summers, K K Bhatia, J Cattani, P G Board

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Extremely high frequencies of the deletion form of alpha(+)-thalassemia (-alpha/), as studied by the DNA mapping technique, were found in the population of Madang, a coastal province in the north of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and in the population of Kar Kar, an island situated near Madang. Ninety-seven percent of the population tested from Madang and 89% of that from Kar Kar Island were either alpha(+)-thalassemia heterozygotes or homozygotes. By contrast, no examples of the deletion form were detected in the Eastern Highlands of PNG. The haplotype frequencies of alpha(+)-thalassemia (-alpha/) in Madang and Kar Kar Island were found to be 81.33% and 66.67%, respectively. A more detailed analysis of the gene deletion revealed that in both populations 96% were of the 4.2 kilobase (kb) type and 4% were of the 3.7-kb type. Thus, this group is the only example in which the 4.2-kb deletion is predominant over 3.7-kb defect. The presence in high frequencies of alpha(+)-thalassemia in the coastal area of Madang and on the neighboring island, where malaria has long been holoendemic or hyperendemic, and its virtual absence from the nonmalarious highlands of PNG suggest the role of malaria as the selective factor in maintaining alpha(+)-thalassemia. If this selective pressure is still operating, and since alpha(+)-thalassemia has no apparent homozygous disadvantage, the abnormal haplotype (-alpha/) will be in the process of fixation in this population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)778-84
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Genetics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1985


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