Tandemly repeated DNA families appear to undergo concerted evolution, such that repeat units within a species have a higher degree of sequence similarity than repeat units from even closely related species. While intraspecies homogenization of repeat units can be explained satisfactorily by repeated rounds of genetic exchange processes such as unequal crossing over and/or gene conversion, the parameters controlling these processes remain largely unknown. Alpha satellite DNA is a noncoding tandemly repeated DNA family found at the centromeres of all human and primate chromosomes. We have used sequence analysis to investigate the molecular basis of 13 variant alpha satellite repeat units, allowing comparison of multiple independent recombination events in closely related DNA sequences. The distribution of these events within the 171-bp monomer is nonrandom and clusters in a distinct 20- to 25-bp region, suggesting possible effects of primary sequence and/or chromatin structure. The position of these recombination events may be associated with the location within the higher-order repeat unit of the binding site for the centromere-specific protein CENP-B. These studies have implications for the molecular nature of genetic recombination, mechanisms of concerted evolution, and higher-order structure of centromeric heterochromatin.