Recombination between homologous, but non-allelic, stretches of DNA such as gene families, segmental duplications and repeat elements is an important source of mutation. In humans, recent studies have identified short DNA motifs that both determine the location of 40 per cent of meiotic cross-over hotspots and are significantly enriched at the breakpoints of recurrent non-allelic homologous recombination (NAHR) syndromes. Unexpectedly, the most highly penetrant form of the motif occurs on the background of an inactive repeat element family (THE1 elements) and the motif also has strong recombinogenic activity on currently active element families including Alu and LINE2 elements. Analysis of genetic variation among members of these repeat families indicates an important role for NAHR in their evolution. Given the potential for double-strand breaks within repeat DNA to cause pathological rearrangement, the association between repeats and hotspots is surprising. Here we consider possible explanations for why selection acting against NAHR has not eliminated hotspots from repeat DNA including mechanistic constraints, possible benefits to repeat DNA from recruiting hotspots and rapid evolution of the recombination machinery. I suggest that rapid evolution of hotspot motifs may, surprisingly, tend to favour sequences present in repeat DNA and outline the data required to differentiate between hypotheses.

Original publication




Journal article


Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

Publication Date





1213 - 1218


Crossing Over, Genetic, DNA, DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded, Evolution, Molecular, Genetic Variation, Humans, Recombination, Genetic, Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid