Cat Parasite Brain

cat parasite brain 1

Cat Parasite Brain

videoPhotoCaption = ”; disableMainMedia = false; (Getty Images) A parasite commonly found in cat litter has been found to permanently alter the brains of mice, making them perpetually fearless of their natural predators, cats. A new study published today in PLOS ONE Journal examined the behavior of mice after being infected with the toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) parasite. The study found mice were significantly less afraid of the scent of a predator even when there was no sign of infection. Parasite Linked to Increased Risk of Suicide Although it’s bad news for the mouse, for the parasite it means getting into the cat’s digestive system, which is the only place it can reproduce. The T. gondii parasite can be found in a number of mammal hosts and, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the parasite has been contracted by 60 million Americans. However, the majority of people infected will never exhibit any symptoms of a toxoplasmosis infection. The parasite is especially dangerous for pregnant women, because it can cause spontaneous abortion, and for people with compromised immune systems. The new study was led by graduate student Wendy Ingram at the University of California, Berkeley. Ingram tested the effects of all three strains of toxoplasma gondii by placing infected mice in a dark box with a petri dish of bobcat urine. Mice that had been infected with the parasite would fearlessly wander throughout the area, while those that were uninfected cowered at one of end of the box. Surprisingly, even after there was no detectable sign of T. gondii or any infection, the previously infected mice still didn’t appear to mind the smell of a predator in their immediate area. “Even when the parasite is cleared and it’s no longer in the brains of the animals, some kind of permanent long-term behavior change has occurred, even though we don’t know what the actual mechanism is,” Ingram said. Ingram said it is possible the parasite could directly alter neurons involved in memory or learning, or trigger or damage the smell center of the brain. She is particularly interested in the possibility that the effect could be related to a host response, similar to an auto-immune response in a human. Can Your Cat Make You Go Crazy? “The idea that this parasite knows more about our brains than we do, and has the ability to exert desired change in complicated rodent behavior, is absolutely fascinating,” Ingram said. “Toxoplasma has done a phenomenal job of figuring out mammalian brains in order to enhance its transmission through a complicated life cycle.” Toxoplasmosis is considered one of the “neglected parasitic infections,” a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by CDC for public health action. When humans ingest the parasite, the organism spreads from the intestine to the muscles and the brain. About one-third of the world is exposed to T. gondi, although few exhibit any symptoms of toxoplasmosis. Although her research was specific to mice, Ingram said that, going forward, research should be done to see what other effects the parasite could have on humans. “They seem like normal mice. It’s a really subtle effect,” said Ingram of the parasite’s impact on mice. “Humans should be studied, and there are things we could look for.” Recent research has studied what long-term effects the parasite can have on the brain of its human hosts. A 2012 study of 45,000 women in Denmark found that women infected with T. gondii were one and a half times more likely to attempt suicide than those who were not infected. As the level of antibodies in the blood rose, so did the suicide risk. There was also a slightly higher risk for violent suicide death. A 2011 study in the The American Journal of Psychiatry found those exposed to T. gondii had a 24 percent greater risk of developing schizophrenia.
cat parasite brain 1

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Cat Parasite Brain

Share Share Tweet Comment Email Print advertisement Even after infection with Toxoplasma gondii has been removed from rodents' brains, they continue to behave as if unafraid of the smell of cat urine, suggesting that the infection causes long-term changes in the brain. Wendy Ingram and Adrienne Greene A parasite that changes the brains of rats and mice so that they are attracted to cats and cat urine seems to work its magic almost right away, and continues to control the brain even after it’s gone, researchers reported on Wednesday. The mind-controlling parasite, called Toxoplasma gondii, might make permanent changes in brain function as soon as it gets in there, the researchers report. They aren’t sure how yet. “The parasite is able to create this behavior change as early as three weeks after infection,” says Wendy Ingram of the University of California, Berkeley, who worked on the study. T. gondii has captured the imaginations of scientists and cat lovers ever since it was learned it can control the behavior of rodents. It changes their brains so they lose their innate fear of the smell of cat urine. In fact, it precisely alters their fear reaction so that they love the smell of cat pee.  This makes infected rodents much more likely to be caught by cats, which eat them and their mind-controlling parasites. T. gondii can only reproduce in the guts of cats, so its behavior directly affects its own survival. It doesn’t just affect cats. People can be infected too — pregnant women are told to stay away from cat feces for this very reason. It normally doesn’t bother people, but it can cause brain inflammation, called encephalitis, in some — especially those with compromised immune systems like pregnant women.  “More than 60 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website. Chronic infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii can make mice lose their innate, hard-wired fear of cats. Wendy Ingram and Adrienne Greene Studies have linked toxoplasmosis with a range of human mental diseases, including schizophrenia, bipolar disease, obsessive compulsive disorder and even clumsiness. This study doesn’t answer questions about people, Ingram points out. “It does not necessarily explain crazy cat ladies or why there are LOLCATS online,” she says. But it does begin to hint at a potential mechanism for how and when the parasite changes the mouse brains. “I want to know how the behavioral change is happening,” Ingram says. Her team used a specially genetically engineered version of the parasite, made by a team at Stanford University. Normal T. gondii parasites form a cyst in neurons. “It was assumed that the cysts … were doing something biologically that is actively changing the behavior,” Ingram told NBC News. But the genetically engineered parasite wasn’t able to make cysts. And it was so weak that the rats’ immune systems were able to clear it from their brains. But even so, rats infected with this weakened form of the parasite just loved the smell of cat urine, Ingram and colleagues report in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE. “This suggests the parasite is flipping a switch rather than continually changing the behavior,” says Ingram. She suspects it’s somehow activating the immune system in a way that then alters brain function. “That’s one of the very first things I am going to be checking,” Ingram says. Maggie Fox Topic Health News First Published Sep 18 2013, 6:03 pm ET Next Story advertisement advertisement advertisement
cat parasite brain 2

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Cat Parasite Brain

Share Share Tweet Comment Email Print advertisement Even after infection with Toxoplasma gondii has been removed from rodents' brains, they continue to behave as if unafraid of the smell of cat urine, suggesting that the infection causes long-term changes in the brain. Wendy Ingram and Adrienne Greene A parasite that changes the brains of rats and mice so that they are attracted to cats and cat urine seems to work its magic almost right away, and continues to control the brain even after it’s gone, researchers reported on Wednesday. The mind-controlling parasite, called Toxoplasma gondii, might make permanent changes in brain function as soon as it gets in there, the researchers report. They aren’t sure how yet. “The parasite is able to create this behavior change as early as three weeks after infection,” says Wendy Ingram of the University of California, Berkeley, who worked on the study. T. gondii has captured the imaginations of scientists and cat lovers ever since it was learned it can control the behavior of rodents. It changes their brains so they lose their innate fear of the smell of cat urine. In fact, it precisely alters their fear reaction so that they love the smell of cat pee.  This makes infected rodents much more likely to be caught by cats, which eat them and their mind-controlling parasites. T. gondii can only reproduce in the guts of cats, so its behavior directly affects its own survival. It doesn’t just affect cats. People can be infected too — pregnant women are told to stay away from cat feces for this very reason. It normally doesn’t bother people, but it can cause brain inflammation, called encephalitis, in some — especially those with compromised immune systems like pregnant women.  “More than 60 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website. Chronic infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii can make mice lose their innate, hard-wired fear of cats. Wendy Ingram and Adrienne Greene Studies have linked toxoplasmosis with a range of human mental diseases, including schizophrenia, bipolar disease, obsessive compulsive disorder and even clumsiness. This study doesn’t answer questions about people, Ingram points out. “It does not necessarily explain crazy cat ladies or why there are LOLCATS online,” she says. But it does begin to hint at a potential mechanism for how and when the parasite changes the mouse brains. “I want to know how the behavioral change is happening,” Ingram says. Her team used a specially genetically engineered version of the parasite, made by a team at Stanford University. Normal T. gondii parasites form a cyst in neurons. “It was assumed that the cysts … were doing something biologically that is actively changing the behavior,” Ingram told NBC News. But the genetically engineered parasite wasn’t able to make cysts. And it was so weak that the rats’ immune systems were able to clear it from their brains. But even so, rats infected with this weakened form of the parasite just loved the smell of cat urine, Ingram and colleagues report in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE. “This suggests the parasite is flipping a switch rather than continually changing the behavior,” says Ingram. She suspects it’s somehow activating the immune system in a way that then alters brain function. “That’s one of the very first things I am going to be checking,” Ingram says. Maggie Fox Topic Health News First Published Sep 18 2013, 6:03 pm ET

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Cat Parasite Brain

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