Microsatellite Allelic Homoplasy Due to Variable Flanking Sequences
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Microsatellite DNA sequences have become the dominant source of nuclear genetic markers for most applications. It is important to investigate the basis of variation between alleles and to know if current assumptions about the mechanisms of microsatellite mutation (that is to say, variations involving simple changes in the number of repeat) are correct. We have characterized, by DNA sequencing, the human alleles of a new highly informative (CA)n repeat localized approximately 20 kb centromeric to the HLA-B gene. Although 12 alleles were identified based on conventional length criteria, sequencing of the alleles demonstrated that differences between alleles were found to be more complex than previously assumed: A high degree of microsatellite variability is due to variation in the region immediately flanking the repeat. These data indicate that the mutational process which generates polymorphism in this region has involved not only simple changes in the number of dinucleotide CA repeats but also perturbations in the nonrepeated 5′ and 3′ flanking sequences. Three families of alleles (not visible from the overall length of the alleles), with presumably separate evolutionary histories, exist and can yield to homoplasy of size. Effectively, we can observe alleles of the same size with different internal structures which are separated by a significant amount of variation. Although allelic homoplasy for noninterrupted microsatellite loci has been suggested between different species, it has not been unequivocally demonstrated within species. A strong association is noted between alleles defined at the sequence level and HLA-B alleles. The observation of several families of alleles at the population level provides information about the evolutionary history and mutation processes of microsatellites and may have implications for the use of these markers in phylogenetic, linkage disequilibrium studies, and gene mapping.
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