Osteological, biomolecular and geochemical examination of an early Anglo-Saxon case of lepromatous leprosy

Sarah A. Inskip, G. Michael Taylor, Sonia R. Zakrzewski, Simon A. Mays, Alistair W.G. Pike, Gareth Llewellyn, Christopher M. Williams, Oona Y.C. Lee, Houdini H.T. Wu, David E. Minnikin, Gurdyal S. Besra, Graham R. Stewart

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26 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We have examined a 5th to 6th century inhumation from Great Chesterford, Essex, UK. The incomplete remains are those of a young male, aged around 21-35 years at death. The remains show osteological evidence of lepromatous leprosy (LL) and this was confirmed by lipid biomarker analysis and ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis, which provided evidence for both multi-copy and single copy loci from the Mycobacterium leprae genome. Genotyping showed the strain belonged to the 3I lineage, but the Great Chesterford isolate appeared to be ancestral to 3I strains found in later medieval cases in southern Britain and also continental Europe. While a number of contemporaneous cases exist, at present, this case of leprosy is the earliest radiocarbon dated case in Britain confirmed by both aDNA and lipid biomarkers. Importantly, Strontium and Oxygen isotope analysis suggest that the individual is likely to have originated from outside Britain. This potentially sheds light on the origins of the strain in Britain and its subsequent spread to other parts of the world, including the Americas where the 3I lineage of M. leprae is still found in some southern states of America.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0124282
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume10
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
No specific grant was available to fund this study but Mycolic Acid analysis was covered by The Leverhulme Trust Project Grant F/00 094/BL (OY-CL, DEM, GSB). GSB was supported by a Personal Research Chair from Mr. James Bardrick and the UK Medical Research Council. The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded the UK National Mass Spectrometry Facility at Swansea University (GL, CMW). We would like to acknowledge Vera Evison’s excellent work at Great Chesterford that made this research possible.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Inskip et al.

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