Genomic regions containing trinucleotide repeats (TNRs) are highly unstable, as the repeated sequences exhibit a high rate of mutational change, in which they undergo either a contraction or an expansion of repeat numbers. Although expansion of TNRs is associated with several human genetic diseases, the expansion mechanism is poorly understood. Extensive studies in model organisms have indicated that instability of TNRs occurs by several mechanisms, including replication slippage, DNA repair and recombination. In all models, the formation of secondary structures by disease-associated TNRs is a critical step in the mutation process. In this report, we demonstrate that TNRs and inverted repeats (IRs) both of which have the potential to form secondary structures in vivo, increase spontaneous unequal sister-chromatid exchange (SCE) in vegetatively growing yeast cells. Our results also show that TNR-mediated SCE events are independent of RAD50, MRE11 and RAD51, whereas IR-stimulated SCEs are dependent on the RAD52 epistasis-group genes. We propose that many TNR expansion mutations occur by SCE.