Negative epistasis between α+ thalassaemia and sickle cell trait can explain interpopulation variation in South Asia.
Penman BS., Habib S., Kanchan K., Gupta S.
Recent studies in Kenya and Ghana have shown that individuals who inherit two malaria-protective genetic disorders of haemoglobin-α(+) thalassaemia and sickle cell trait-experience a much lower level of malaria protection than those who inherit sickle cell trait alone. We have previously demonstrated that this can limit the frequency of α(+) thalassaemia in a population in which sickle cell is present, which may account for the frequency of α(+) thalassaemia in sub-Saharan Africa not exceeding 50%. Here we consider the relationship between α(+) thalassaemia and sickle cell in South Asian populations, and show that very high levels of α(+) thalassaemia combined with varying levels of malaria selection can explain why sickle cell has penetrated certain South Asian populations but not others.