Where West Meets East: The Complex mtDNA Landscape of the Southwest and Central Asian Corridor

The southwestern and Central Asian corridor has played a pivotal role in the history of humankind, witnessing numerous waves of migration of different peoples at different times. To evaluate the effects of these population movements on the current genetic landscape of the Iranian plateau, the Indus Valley, and Central Asia, we have analyzed 910 mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) from 23 populations of the region. This study has allowed a refinement of the phylogenetic relationships of some lineages and the identification of new haplogroups in the southwestern and Central Asian mtDNA tree. Both lineage geographical distribution and spatial analysis of molecular variance showed that populations located west of the Indus Valley mainly harbor mtDNAs of western Eurasian origin, whereas those inhabiting the Indo-Gangetic region and Central Asia present substantial proportions of lineages that can be allocated to three different genetic components of western Eurasian, eastern Eurasian, and south Asian origin. In addition to the overall composite picture of lineage clusters of different origin, we observed a number of deep-rooting lineages, whose relative clustering and coalescent ages suggest an autochthonous origin in the southwestern Asian corridor during the Pleistocene. The comparison with Y-chromosome data revealed a highly complex genetic and demographic history of the region, which includes sexually asymmetrical mating patterns, founder effects, and female-specific traces of the East African slave trade.