In a recent article, Immel et al. (Immel A, Key FM, Szolek A, Barquera R, Robinson MK, Harrison GF, Palmer WH, Spyrou MA, Susat J, Krause-Kyora B, et al. 2021. Analysis of genomic DNA from medieval plague victims suggests long-term effect of Yersinia pestis on human immunity genes. Mol Biol Evol. 38:4059-4076) extracted DNA from 36 individuals dead from plague in Ellwangen, Southern Germany, during the 16th century. By comparing their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genotypes with those of 50 present-day Ellwangen inhabitants, the authors reported a significant decrease of HLA-B*51:01 and HLA-C*06:02 and a significant increase of HLA-DRB1*13:01/13:02 frequencies from ancient to modern populations. After comparing these frequencies with a larger sample of 8,862 modern Germans and performing simulations of natural selection, they concluded that these changes had been driven by natural selection. In an attempt to provide more evidence on such stimulating results, we explored the HLA frequency patterns over all of Europe, we predicted binding affinities of HLA-B/C/DRB1 alleles to 106,515 Yersinia pestis-derived peptides, and we performed forward simulations of HLA genetic profiles under neutrality. Our analyses do not sustain the conclusions of HLA protection or susceptibility to plague based on ancient DNA.
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