Background: World-wide phylogeographic distribution of human complete mitochondrial DNA sequences suggested a West Asian origin for the autochthonous North African lineage U6. We report here a more detailed analysis of this lineage, unraveling successive expansions that affected not only Africa but neighboring regions such as the Near East, the Iberian Peninsula and the Canary Islands.
Results: Divergence times, geographic origin and expansions of the U6 mitochondrial DNA clade, have been deduced from the analysis of 14 complete U6 sequences, and 56 different haplotypes, characterized by hypervariable segment sequences and RFLPs.
Conclusions: The most probable origin of the proto-U6 lineage was the Near East. Around 30,000 years ago it spread to North Africa where it represents a signature of regional continuity. Subgroup U6a reflects the first African expansion from the Maghrib returning to the east in Paleolithic times. Derivative clade U6a1 signals a posterior movement from East Africa back to the Maghrib and the Near East. This migration coincides with the probable Afroasiatic linguistic expansion. U6b and U6c clades, restricted to West Africa, had more localized expansions. U6b probably reached the Iberian Peninsula during the Capsian diffusion in North Africa. Two autochthonous derivatives of these clades (U6b1 and U6c1) indicate the arrival of North African settlers to the Canarian Archipelago in prehistoric times, most probably due to the Saharan desiccation. The absence of these Canarian lineages nowadays in Africa suggests important demographic movements in the western area of this Continent.