The human nuclear gene (POLG) for the catalytic subunit of mitochondrial DNA polymerase (DNA polymerase gamma) contains a trinucleotide CAG microsatellite repeat within the coding sequence. We have investigated the frequency of different repeat-length alleles in populations of diseased and healthy individuals. The predominant allele of 10 CAG repeats was found at a very similar frequency (approximately 88%) in both Finnish and ethnically mixed population samples, with homozygosity close to the equilibrium prediction. Other alleles of between 5 and 13 repeat units were detected, but no larger, expanded alleles were found. A series of 51 British myotonic dystrophy patients showed no significant variation from controls, indicating an absence of generalised CAG repeat instability. Patients with a variety of molecular lesions in mtDNA, including sporadic, clonal deletions, maternally inherited point mutations, autosomally transmitted mtDNA depletion and autosomal dominant multiple deletions showed no differences in POLG trinucleotide repeat-length distribution from controls. These findings rule out POLG repeat expansion as a common pathogenic mechanism in disorders characterised by mitochondrial genome instability.