Microsatellite mutations identified in pedigrees confirm that most changes involve the gain or loss of single repeats. However, an unexpected pattern is revealed when the resulting data are plotted on standardized scales that range from the shortest to longest allele at a locus. Both mutation rate and mutation bias reveal a strong dependency on allele length relative to other alleles at the same locus. We show that models in which alleles mutate independently cannot explain these patterns. Instead, both mutation probability and direction appear to involve interactions between homologues in heterozygous individuals. Simple models in which the longer homologue in heterozygotes is more likely to mutate and/or biased towards contraction readily capture the observed trends. The exact model remains unclear in all its details but inter-allelic interactions are a vital component, implying a link between demographic history and the mode and tempo of microsatellite evolution.
Keywords: allelic interactions; heterozygote instability; microsatellite; mutation; mutation bias; short tandem repeat.
© 2015 The Author(s).