, Volume 126, Issue 4, pp 521-531,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 04 Jun 2009

Linguistic and maternal genetic diversity are not correlated in Native Mexicans


Mesoamerica, defined as the broad linguistic and cultural area from middle southern Mexico to Costa Rica, might have played a pivotal role during the colonization of the American continent. The Mesoamerican isthmus has constituted an important geographic barrier that has severely restricted gene flow between North and South America in pre-historical times. Although the Native American component has been already described in admixed Mexican populations, few studies have been carried out in native Mexican populations. In this study, we present mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence data for the first hypervariable region (HVR-I) in 477 unrelated individuals belonging to 11 different native populations from Mexico. Almost all of the Native Mexican mtDNAs could be classified into the four pan-Amerindian haplogroups (A2, B2, C1, and D1); only two of them could be allocated to the rare Native American lineage D4h3. Their haplogroup phylogenies are clearly star-like, as expected from relatively young populations that have experienced diverse episodes of genetic drift (e.g., extensive isolation, genetic drift, and founder effects) and posterior population expansions. In agreement with this observation, Native Mexican populations show a high degree of heterogeneity in their patterns of haplogroup frequencies. Haplogroup X2a was absent in our samples, supporting previous observations where this clade was only detected in the American northernmost areas. The search for identical sequences in the American continent shows that, although Native Mexican populations seem to show a closer relationship to North American populations, they cannot be related to a single geographical region within the continent. Finally, we did not find significant population structure in the maternal lineages when considering the four main and distinct linguistic groups represented in our Mexican samples (Oto-Manguean, Uto-Aztecan, Tarascan, and Mayan), suggesting that genetic divergence predates linguistic diversification in Mexico.