Microsatellites are repeats of a DNA base motif (1-6 bp, mostly CA repeats) up to 100 times; they are distributed regularly all over the genome. Many of them are polymorphic and their high polymorphism is based upon a variable number of repeats. They are widely used for genetic mapping, linkage analysis, population genetics, evolutionary studies and in forensic medicine. Such markers have also been described in the HLA region since 1991, and a growing interest in their potential applications is being expressed. The aims of this review are: 1) to outline the presently available information from literature and molecular databases concerning 53 microsatellites in the HLA region (localization, type of repeat, number of alleles, heterozygosity, primers used for amplification); 2) to address the question of technical pitfalls when using such markers; 3) to discuss specific features such as their mutation rate (10−3 to 10−6), which is higher than that reported for HLA genes, and their linkage disequilibrium with HLA alleles; 4) to present an integrated map of microsatellites and genes of this region; and 5) to provide a synopsis of their different applications in HLA-related fields (disease studies, population genetics, recombination point studies, HLA region mapping, transplantation) along with perspectives for future use. Although some HLA region microsatellites have already been applied to the analysis of more than 10 diseases, it is now evident that their use in population genetics and the determination of genomic compatibility in bone marrow transplantation represent growing areas of application.