Maladaptive phenotypic plasticity in cardiac muscle growth is suppressed in high-altitude deer mice

Jonathan P. Velotta, Catherine M. Ivy, Cole J. Wolf, Graham R. Scott, Zachary A. Cheviron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


How often phenotypic plasticity acts to promote or inhibit adaptive evolution is an ongoing debate among biologists. Recent work suggests that adaptive phenotypic plasticity promotes evolutionary divergence, though several studies have also suggested that maladaptive plasticity can potentiate adaptation. The role of phenotypic plasticity, adaptive, or maladaptive, in evolutionary divergence remains controversial. We examined the role of plasticity in evolutionary divergence between two species of Peromyscus mice that differ in native elevations. We used cardiac mass as a model phenotype, since ancestral hypoxia-induced responses of the heart may be both adaptive and maladaptive at high-altitude. While left ventricle growth should enhance oxygen delivery to tissues, hypertrophy of the right ventricle can lead to heart failure and death. We compared left- and right-ventricle plasticity in response to hypoxia between captive-bred P. leucopus (representing the ancestral lowland condition) and P. maniculatus from high-altitude. We found that maladaptive ancestral plasticity in right ventricle hypertrophy is reduced in high-altitude deer mice. Analysis of the heart transcriptome suggests that changes in expression of inflammatory signaling genes, particularly interferon regulatory factors, contribute to the suppression of right ventricle hypertrophy. We found weak evidence that adaptive plasticity of left ventricle mass contributes to evolution. Our results suggest that selection to suppress ancestral maladaptive plasticity plays a role in adaptation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2712-2727
Number of pages16
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Gene expression
  • Heart
  • Hypoxia
  • Peromyscus
  • RNA-seq


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