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Extensive allelic diversity in variable numbers of tandem repeats (VNTRs) has been discovered in the human genome. For population genetic studies of VNTRs, such as forensic applications, it is important to know whether a neutral mutation-drift balance of VNTR polymorphism can be represented by the infinite alleles model. The assumption of the infinite alleles model that each new mutant is unique is very likely to be violated by unequal sister chromatid exchange (USCE), the primary process believed to generate VNTR mutants. We show that increasing both mutation rates and misalignment constraint for intrachromosomal recombination in a computer simulation model reduces simulated VNTR diversity below the expectations of the infinite alleles model. Maximal constraint, represented as slippage of single repeats, reduces simulated VNTR diversity to levels expected from the stepwise mutation model. Although misalignment rule is the more important variable, mutation rate also has an effect. At moderate rates of USCE, simulated VNTR diversity fluctuates around infinite alleles expectation. However, if rates of USCE are high, as for hypervariable VNTRs, simulated VNTR diversity is consistently lower than predicted by the infinite alleles model. This has been observed for many VNTRs and accounted for by technical problems in distinguishing alleles of neighboring size classes. We use sampling theory to confirm the intrinsically poor fit to the infinite alleles model of both simulated VNTR diversity and observed VNTR polymorphisms sampled from two Papua New Guinean populations.


Journal article



Publication Date





911 - 922


Alleles, Biological Evolution, Computer Simulation, Genetic Variation, Genetics, Population, Genome, Human, Humans, Models, Genetic, Mutation, Polymorphism, Genetic, Recombination, Genetic, Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid, Sister Chromatid Exchange