Abstract Expanded simple tandem repeat (ESTR) DNA loci that are unstable in the germline have provided the most sensitive tool ever developed for investigating low-dose heritable mutation induction in laboratory mice. Ionizing radiation exposures have shown that ESTR mutations occur mainly in pre-meiotic spermatogonia and stem cells. The average spermatogonial doubling dose is 0.62–0.69 Gy for low LET, and 0.18–0.34 Gy for high LET radiation. Chemical alkylating agents also cause significant ESTR mutation induction in pre-meiotic spermatogonia and stem cells, but are much less effective per unit dose than radiation. ESTR mutation induction efficiency is maximal at low doses of radiation or chemical mutagens, and may decrease at higher dose ranges. DNA repair deficient mice (SCID and PARP-1) with elevated levels of single and double-strand DNA breaks have spontaneously elevated ESTR mutation frequencies, and surprisingly do not show additional ESTR mutation induction following irradiation. In contrast, ESTR mutation induction in p53 knock-outs is indistinguishable from that of wild-type mice. Studies of sentinel mice exposed in situ to ambient air pollution showed elevated ESTR mutation frequencies in males exposed to high levels of particulate matter. These studies highlight the application of the ESTR assay for assessing environmental hazards under real-world conditions. All ESTR studies to date have shown untargeted mutations that occur at much higher frequencies than predicted. The mechanism of this untargeted mutation induction is unknown, and must be elucidated before we can fully understand the biological significance of ESTR mutations, or use these markers for formal risk assessment. Future studies should focus on the mechanism of ESTR mutation induction, refining dose responses, and developing ESTR markers for other animal species.