Hypermutable minisatellites, a human affair?

Genomics. 2003 Apr;81(4):349-55. doi: 10.1016/s0888-7543(03)00021-1.


Minisatellites are a class of highly polymorphic GC-rich tandem repeats. They include some of the most variable loci in the human genome, with mutation rates ranging from 0.5% to >20% per generation. Structurally, they consist of 10- to 100-bp intermingled variant repeats, making them ideal tools for dissecting mechanisms of instability at tandem repeats. Distinct mutation processes generate rare intra-allelic somatic events and frequent complex conversion-like germline mutations in these repeats. Furthermore, turnover of repeats at human minisatellites is controlled by intense recombinational activity in DNA flanking the repeat array. Surprisingly, whereas other mammalian genomes possess minisatellite-like sequences, hypermutable loci have not been identified that suggest human-specific turnover processes at minisatellite arrays. Attempts to transfer minisatellite germline instability to the mouse have failed. However, yeast models are now revealing valuable information regarding the mechanisms regulating instability at these tandem repeats. Finally, minisatellites and tandem repeats provide exquisitely sensitive molecular tools to detect genomic insults such as ionizing radiation exposure. Surprisingly, by a mechanism that remains elusive, there are transgenerational increases in minisatellite instability.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Minisatellite Repeats / genetics*
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Recombination, Genetic / genetics