Mechanisms of Adaptation in a Predator-Prey Arms Race: TTX-Resistant Sodium Channels

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Science  23 Aug 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5585, pp. 1336-1339
DOI: 10.1126/science.1074310

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Populations of the garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis have evolved geographically variable resistance to tetrodotoxin (TTX) in a coevolutionary arms race with their toxic prey, newts of the genus Taricha. Here, we identify a physiological mechanism, the expression of TTX-resistant sodium channels in skeletal muscle, responsible for adaptive diversification in whole-animal resistance. Both individual and population differences in the ability of skeletal muscle fibers to function in the presence of TTX correlate closely with whole-animal measures of TTX resistance. Demonstration of individual variation in an essential physiological function responsible for the adaptive differences among populations is a step toward linking the selective consequences of coevolutionary interactions to geographic and phylogenetic patterns of diversity.

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