Although microsatellite polymorphisms are one of the most commonly used tools in genetic analyses, it remains to be understood how microsatellite DNA has evolved as a ubiquitous and highly abundant class of repetitive sequences in eukaryotic genomes. On the basis of analyses of spontaneous human microsatellite mutations of germline origin, I show here that different mutation biases underlie the evolution of microsatellite repeats. The within-locus mutation rate increases with allele length, but is not affected by the size difference between an individual's two alleles (allele span). Within loci, long alleles tend to mutate to shorter lengths, thereby acting to prevent infinite growth. Expansions are more common than contractions among dinucleotide repeats, whereas no such trend is evident among tetranucleotide repeats. This observation is consistent with the longer repeat lengths and higher frequency of di- compared with tetranucleotide repeats. An excess of paternally transmitted mutations (male-to-female ratio of 4.9) supports a male-biased mutation rate in the human genome.