Caption: An image illustrating a Neanderthal and a sketch of a ring finger locked in a bent position, characteristic of Dupuytren’s disease, commonly known as the “Viking disease.” Recent research reveals that the genetic roots of this condition, prevalent among older men of Northern European descent, can be traced back to Neanderthals. Credit: Hugo Zeberg
A significant number of men over the age of 60 in northern Europe experience a condition referred to as Dupuytren’s contracture, which results in the fingers becoming rigid and bent. To investigate the genetic risk factors associated with this disease, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet, along with their colleagues, analyzed data from over 7,000 affected individuals. Their findings, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, indicate that three of the most influential risk factors are inherited from Neanderthals.
Dupuytren’s contracture, commonly known as the “Viking disease,” affects up to 30 percent of men in northern Europe over the age of 60. It predominantly impacts individuals with Northern European ancestry. The condition is more prevalent in men and typically begins with the formation of a lump in the palm, which gradually grows and causes one or more fingers to become permanently bent. Although the condition is usually not painful, the nodules can occasionally be sensitive to pressure.
Hugo Zeberg, an assistant professor at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet. Credit: Alexander Donka
Led by Hugo Zeberg from the Karolinska Institutet and Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the researchers sought to determine whether genetic variants inherited from Neanderthals contribute to the development of Dupuytren’s contracture.
Neanderthals inhabited Europe and western Asia until approximately 40,000 years ago when they were replaced by modern humans. However, prior to their disappearance, they interbred with modern humans, resulting in the presence of Neanderthal DNA in the genomes of individuals outside of Africa, ranging from one to two percent.
“As Dupuytren’s contracture is rarely observed in individuals of African descent, we speculated whether gene variants inherited from Neanderthals could partially account for its occurrence in populations outside of Africa,” explains Hugo Zeberg, assistant professor at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet.
The researchers conducted their study using data from three large clinical cohorts in the United States, United Kingdom, and Finland, enabling them to compare the genomes of 7,871 individuals with the condition to 645,880 healthy controls. Through their analysis, they identified 61 genetic risk factors associated with Dupuytren’s contracture. Remarkably, three of these risk factors were inherited from Neanderthals, including the second and third most significant contributors.
This study provides further evidence that the interbreeding between Neanderthals and our human ancestors has substantial implications for the prevalence of certain diseases, particularly among specific population groups.
“While the association between Neanderthals and Vikings should not be overstated, this case demonstrates how encounters with Neanderthals have influenced the susceptibility to certain illnesses,” emphasizes Hugo Zeberg.
Reference: “Major Genetic Risk Factors for Dupuytren’s Disease Are Inherited From Neandertals” by Richard Ågren, Snehal Patil, Xiang Zhou, FinnGen, Kristoffer Sahlholm, Svante Pääbo, and Hugo Zeberg, 14 June 2023, Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Funding for the study was provided by The Swedish Research Council, The Swedish Brain Foundation, The Erik Philip-Sörensen Foundation, Petrus och Augusta Hedlunds Stiftelse, and Emil och Wera Cornells Stiftelse.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Viking Disease
What is Dupuytren’s contracture, also known as the “Viking disease”?
Dupuytren’s contracture, commonly referred to as the “Viking disease,” is a condition that affects the fingers of individuals, especially men, primarily of Northern European ancestry. It causes the fingers to become locked in a bent position due to the growth of nodules in the palm.
What are the genetic risk factors associated with Dupuytren’s contracture?
Recent research suggests that three of the strongest genetic risk factors for Dupuytren’s contracture are inherited from Neanderthals. These risk factors contribute to the development of the condition and are prevalent among individuals with roots outside of Africa.
How was the study conducted to identify the genetic risk factors?
The study utilized data from over 7,000 individuals affected by Dupuytren’s contracture and compared it with genetic information from 645,880 healthy controls. The researchers analyzed the genomes and identified 61 genetic risk factors associated with the condition, with three of them being inherited from Neanderthals.
What is the significance of the Neanderthal genetic contribution to Dupuytren’s contracture?
The findings highlight the impact of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans on the prevalence of certain diseases. The presence of Neanderthal DNA in individuals outside of Africa, ranging from one to two percent, is linked to an increased susceptibility to Dupuytren’s contracture among specific population groups, particularly in Northern European men.
Who conducted the research and where was it published?
The research was conducted by a team of scientists led by Hugo Zeberg from the Karolinska Institutet and Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The findings were published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.
More about Viking Disease
- “Major Genetic Risk Factors for Dupuytren’s Disease Are Inherited From Neandertals” (Molecular Biology and Evolution) – Link
- Karolinska Institutet – Link
- Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology – Link
- Swedish Research Council – Link
- Swedish Brain Foundation – Link
- Erik Philip-Sörensen Foundation – Link
- Petrus och Augusta Hedlunds Stiftelse – Link
- Emil och Wera Cornells Stiftelse – Link