The LWb blood group as a marker of prehistoric Baltic migrations and admixture.

Sistonen P, Virtaranta-Knowles K, Denisova R, Kucinskas V, Ambrasiene D, Beckman L.

Finnish Red Cross Transfusion Service, Helsinki, Finland.

Archaeological findings and historical records indicate frequent migrations and exchange of genetic material between populations in the Baltic Sea area. However, there have so far been very few attempts to trace migrations in this area using genetic markers. We have studied the Baltic populations with respect to exceptional variations in the frequencies of the Landsteiner-Wiener (LW) blood group. The frequency of the uncommon LWb gene was high in the Balts, around 6% among Latvians and Lithuanians, very low among the other western Europeans (0-0.1%) and apparently absent in Asiatic and African populations. From the Baltic region of peak frequency there was a regular decline of LWb incidence (a descending cline) in the neighboring populations: 4.0% in the Estonians, 2.9% in the Finns, 2. 2% in the Vologda Russians, and 2.0% in the Poles. Thus the distribution of LWb suggests considerable and extensive Baltic admixture, especially in the north and northeast direction. In Southern Sweden with an LWb frequency of 0.3%, the Baltic influence appeared slight, while in the population of the Swedish island Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea there was a significantly increased LWb frequency of 1.0% compared with that of Western European countries. The distinction of codominantly inherited LW antigenic forms, LWa and LWb (previously Nea), is known to be due to a single base substitution. Based on our population data, it is plausible that the expansion of this point mutation occurred only once during human history. Furthermore, our data indicate that the expansion of the LWb mutation occurred in Balts and that LWb can be considered a 'Baltic tribal marker', its presence in other populations being an indicator of the degree of Baltic genetic influence.