A mitochondrial revelation of early human migrations to the Tibetan Plateau before and after the last glacial maximum

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2010 Dec;143(4):555-69. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21350.


As the highest plateau surrounded by towering mountain ranges, the Tibetan Plateau was once considered to be one of the last populated areas of modern humans. However, this view has been tremendously changed by archeological, linguistic, and genetic findings in the past 60 years. Nevertheless, the timing and routes of entry of modern humans into the Tibetan Plateau is still unclear. To make these problems clear, we carried out high-resolution mitochondrial-DNA (mtDNA) analyses on 562 Tibeto-Burman inhabitants from nine different regions across the plateau. By examining the mtDNA haplogroup distributions and their principal components, we demonstrated that maternal diversity on the plateau reflects mostly a northern East Asian ancestry. Furthermore, phylogeographic analysis of plateau-specific sublineages based on 31 complete mtDNA sequences revealed two primary components: pre-last glacial maximum (LGM) inhabitants and post-LGM immigrants. Also, the analysis of one major pre-LGM sublineage A10 showed a strong signal of post-LGM population expansion (about 15,000 years ago) and greater diversity in the southern part of the Tibetan Plateau, indicating the southern plateau as a refuge place when climate dramatically changed during LGM.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Complementarity Determining Regions
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Emigration and Immigration / history*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Haplotypes*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tibet


  • Complementarity Determining Regions
  • DNA, Mitochondrial