Microsatellite mutations in the germline: implications for evolutionary inference

Trends Genet. 2000 Dec;16(12):551-8. doi: 10.1016/s0168-9525(00)02139-9.


Microsatellite DNA sequences mutate at rates several orders of magnitude higher than that of the bulk of DNA. Such high rates mean that spontaneous mutations that form new-length variants can realistically be seen in pedigree analysis. Data on observed mutation events from various organisms are now accumulating, allowing inferences on DNA sequence evolution to be made through an unusually direct approach. Here I discuss and integrate microsatellite mutation data in an evolutionary context. A striking feature of the mutation process is that it seems highly heterogeneous, with distinct differences between species, repeat types, loci and alleles. Age and sex also affect the mutation rate. Within genomes at equilibrium, the microsatellite-length distribution is a delicate balance between biased mutation processes and point mutations acting towards the decay of repetitive DNA. Indeed, simple repeats do not evolve simply.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Germ-Line Mutation*
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics*