Trimeric and tetrameric short tandem repeats (STRs) represent a rich source of highly polymorphic markers in the human genome that may be studied with the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). We report the analysis of a multilocus genotype survey of 97-380 chromosomes in U.S. Black, White, Mexican-American, and Asian populations at five STR loci located on chromosomes 1, 4, 11, and X. The heterozygote frequencies of the loci ranged from 0.36 to 0.91 and the number of alleles from 6 to 20 for the 20 population and locus combinations. Relative allele frequencies exhibited differences between populations and unimodal, bimodal, and complex distributions. Although deviations were noted at some locus-population test combinations, genotype data from the loci were consistent overall with Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium by three tests. Population subheterogeneity within each ethnic group was not detected by two additional tests. No mutations were detected in a total of 860 meioses for two loci studied in the CEPH kindreds and five loci studied in other families. An indirect estimate of the mutation rates gave values from 2.3 x 10(-5) to 15.9 x 10(-5) for the five loci. Higher mutation rates appear to be associated with greater numbers of tandem repeats in the core motif. The most frequent genotype for all five loci combined appears to have a frequency of 7.59 x 10(-4). Together, these results suggest that trimeric and tetrameric STR loci are useful markers for the study of new mutations and genetic linkage analysis and for application to personal identification in the medical and forensic sciences.