Feeds

Common brain parasite 'can affect host's actions'

One-in-five chance your mind is being manipulated

High performance access to file storage

Boffins here in Blighty say that a brain parasite which is carried by up to 20 per cent of the population is capable of affecting its host's actions for its own benefit – but against the interests of the host.

The parasite in question, Toxoplasma gondii, has now been found to "directly affect" the production of dopamine, a key chemical messenger in the human brain. Dopamine levels are implicated in human illnesses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia.

Toxoplasma gondii's primary host organism is cats, but it can also live in other creatures including humans and rats. Humans are infected with it by eating unwashed vegetables with cat poo on them: it's estimated that between 10 and 20 per cent of Brits carry the protozoan parasite and perhaps 22 per cent of Americans. Normally the hidden brain invader appears to have little effect on a human host, though it can kill in certain cases – for instance in the case of someone whose immune system isn't working.

It's been known for some time that T gondii has a more serious effect on rats and mice, in which they lose their fear of cats or even become attracted to them. This is obviously bad news for the host, as it tends to get killed and eaten, but good news for T gondii as it gets to infect another cat where it can reproduce.

Now, scientists working in Britain and the USA have shown for the first time that T gondii can affect production of dopamine in the brain of a rat host – offering a clue as to how it can manipulate rats' behaviour, and perhaps giving insights into problems of the human brain also. According to a statement issued by Leeds uni announcing the research:

Dopamine is a natural chemical which relays messages in the brain controlling aspects of movement, cognition and behaviour. It helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres and regulates emotional responses such as fear. The presence of a certain kind of dopamine receptor is also associated with sensation-seeking, whereas dopamine deficiency in humans results in Parkinson's disease.

"Based on these analyses, it was clear that T gondii can orchestrate a significant increase in dopamine production in neural cells," says Dr Glenn McConkey of the Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences.

"Humans are accidental hosts to T gondii and the parasite could end up anywhere in the brain, so human symptoms of toxoplasmosis infection may depend on where parasite ends up. This may explain the observed statistical link between incidences of schizophrenia and toxoplasmosis infection."

The full research paper can be read here, published by the journal PLoS ONE. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.