Tracing Behçet's disease origins along the Silk Road: An anthropological evolutionary genetics perspective

Marco Sazzini, Paolo Garagnani, Stefania Sarno, Sara De Fanti, Teresa Lazzano, Daniele Yang Yao, Alessio Boattini, Giulia Pazzola, Sally Maramotti, Luigi Boiardi, Claudio Franceschi, Carlo Salvarani, Donata Luiselli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. Behçet's disease is a multifactorial vasculitis that shows its highest prevalence in geographical areas historically involved in the Silk Road, suggesting that it might have originated somewhere along these ancient trade routes. This study aims to provide a first clue towards genetic evidence for this hypothesis by testing it via an anthropological evolutionary genetics approach. Methods. Behçet's disease variation at ancestry informative mitochondrial DNA control region and haplogroup diagnostic sites was characterised in 185 disease subjects of Italian descent and set into the Eurasian mitochondrial landscape by comparison with nearly 9,000 sequences representative of diversity observable in Italy and along the main Silk Road routes. Results. Dissection of the actual genetic ancestry of disease individuals by means of population structure, spatial autocorrelation and haplogroup analyses revealed their closer relationships with some Middle Eastern and Central Asian groups settled along the Silk Road than with healthy Italians. Conclusion. These findings support the hypothesis that the Behçet's disease genetic risk has migrated to western Eurasia in parallel with ancestry components typical of Silk Road-related groups. This provided new insights that are useful to improve the understanding of disease origins and diffusion, as well as to inform future association studies aimed at properly accounting for the actual genetic ancestry of the examined Behçet's disease samples in order to minimise the detection of spurious associations and to improve the identification of genetic variants with actual clinical relevance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-66
Number of pages7
JournalClinical and Experimental Rheumatology
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Anthropological evolutionary genetics
  • Behçet's disease
  • Gene flow
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Silk Road

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Medicine(all)


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