Science

How behavior-changing parasites inspire new mental health treatments

How behavior-changing parasite...
Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite responsible for the disease toxoplasmosis, has been seen to alter behavior and cognition in some infected subjets
Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite responsible for the disease toxoplasmosis, has been seen to alter behavior and cognition in some infected subjets
View 1 Image
Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite responsible for the disease toxoplasmosis, has been seen to alter behavior and cognition in some infected subjets
1/1
Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite responsible for the disease toxoplasmosis, has been seen to alter behavior and cognition in some infected subjets

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a common parasitic infection. Although it is suspected hundreds of millions of people around the world may be infected with the parasite, only a small volume display symptoms and go on to develop disease.

During the acute stages of an infection some people have been known to display cognitive or behavioral alterations. There has been a significant amount of research investigating the correlation between schizophrenia and toxoplasmosis, but there is still debate over whether the parasite can be causally connected to these kinds of neuropsychological disorders.

New research, led by a team from the University of Leeds and the Université de Toulouse, is presenting a robust hypothesis to explain how this kind of parasitic infection could influence certain neurological disorders and alter behavior. The article, published in the journal Trends in Immunology, provides new insights into how neurophysiological changes influence behavior, and points to novel therapeutic research targets.

“Our insight connects the two opposing theories for how T. gondii alters host behavior and this may apply to other infections of the nervous system,” explains Glenn McConkey, lead on the new research. “One school believes that behavior changes are invoked by the immune response to infection and the other that changes are due to altered neurotransmitters.”

The new research suggests infection with the toxoplasmosis-causing parasite downregulates a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. This subsequently triggers pro-inflammatory mechanisms in brain cells by suppressing the signaling processes than control immune responses. The consequent behavioral and cognitive changes are thought to be caused by increased neuroinflammation.

Moving forward, further work is needed to understand whether restoring norepinephrine signaling can either prevent, or reverse, the behavioral abnormalities associated with a parasitic infection. Potential drug targets could hypothetically be developed to modulate this pathway and treat a number of neurological conditions that are underpinned by neuroinflammation.

"This research will contribute to the great need in understanding how brain inflammation is connected to cognition, which is essential for the future development of antipsychotic treatments,” says McConkey.

The new research was published in the journal Trends in Immunology.

Source: University of Leeds

1 comment
Techrex
A longshot idea here. Is this Toxoplasma gondii vulnerable to electric shocks? if so, could that old horror movie electric shock therapy (They have changed that type of therapy so it's actually a valid and safe treatment since they made that 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" movie! )to the heads of patients suffering mental disorders caused by it, destroy it, and cure the patient? Also, every time I read about another fatal case of that Naigelli Fowleris brain disease, or brain-eating Amoebas, that people catch by swimming in dirty, where the Amoebas can swim up through your nose, and make their way through the nose nerves, that go straight into your brain, and start eating brain cells, and is almost always fatal, I send out, repeatedly, a technical recommendation, (Yes, that's why I made up the user name TechRex, because it's sounds like, what I am always sending out over the internet, as a hobby.) That the doctors treating these patients with the brain eating Amoebas, should try electric shock therapy on their heads, because these parasites are actually confined to their brains, not spread all over the body like many other parasites. And, the Amoebas lack any solid cell exteriors, just weak plastic, permeable skin or membrances, so unlike the rest of the brain's cellular structures, the electric jolts hitting them will not be grounded, and cause the Amoebas to be disintegrated en masse. Yes, it's a 'Mad Scientist' Tech-Rec, but since these particular patients with devouring Amoebas in their brains, are all going to die anyway, what do they have to lose really?