The causal element for the lactase persistence/non-persistence polymorphism is located in a 1 Mb region of linkage disequilibrium in Europeans

Ann Hum Genet. 2003 Jul;67(Pt 4):298-311. doi: 10.1046/j.1469-1809.2003.00048.x.


Expression of lactase in the intestine persists into adult life in some people and not others, and this is due to a cis-acting regulatory polymorphism. Previous data indicated that a mutation leading to lactase persistence had occurred on the background of a 60 kb 11-site LCT haplotype known as A (Hollox et al. 2001). Recent studies reported a 100% correlation of lactase persistence with the presence of the T allele at a CT SNP at -14 kb from LCT, in individuals of Finnish origin, suggesting that this SNP may be causal of the lactase persistence polymorphism, and also reported a very tight association with a second SNP (GA -22 kb) (Enattah et al. 2002). Here we report the existence of a one megabase stretch of linkage disequilibrium in the region of LCT and show that the -14 kb T allele and the -22 kb A allele both occur on the background of a very extended A haplotype. In a series of Finnish individuals we found a strong correlation (40/41 people) with lactose digestion and the presence of the T allele. The T allele was present in all 36 lactase persistent individuals from the UK (phenotyped by enzyme assay) studied, 31/36 of whom were of Northern European ancestry, but not in 11 non-persistent individuals who were mainly of non-UK ancestry. However, the CT heterozygotes did not show intermediate lactase enzyme activity, unlike those previously phenotyped by determining allelic transcript expression. Furthermore the one lactase persistent homozygote identified by having equally high expression of A and B haplotype transcripts, was heterozygous for CT at the -14 kb site. SNP analysis across the 1 megabase region in this person showed no evidence of recombination on either chromosome between the -14 kb SNP and LCT. The combined data shows that although the -14 kb CT SNP is an excellent candidate for the cause of the lactase persistence polymorphism, linkage disequilibrium extends far beyond the region searched so far. In addition, the CT SNP does not, on its own, explain all the variation in expression of LCT, suggesting the possibility of genetic heterogeneity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles*
  • Base Sequence
  • Contig Mapping
  • DNA Primers
  • Europe
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Lactase / genetics*
  • Lactase / metabolism
  • Linkage Disequilibrium / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*
  • Whites / genetics*


  • DNA Primers
  • Lactase