Toxoplasmosis might be even scarier than it seems at first. Studies show that even after getting rid of the parasite, it might cause lasting damage to the brain’s metabolism and can cause serious personality changes.
The organism itself can be responsible for altering its host’s brain chemistry in such a way that they might experience symptoms like depression, mild schizophrenia and even a loss of common judgment, resulting in erratic behavior.
The first clue to this was found in mice. Upon infecting them with the parasite, the rodents have seemingly lost their fear of their number one enemy: cats. Toxoplasmosis-carrying mice ended up getting strangely attracted to cat urine, even. But would this mean that it could cause such severe reactions in the human brain, too?
Toxoplasma gondii is a common parasite that’s easy to find in all types of environment, but it only reproduces in the digestive tract of felines. It can affect all kinds of lifeforms, most of us come into contact with it at one point or another during our lifetime.
Can cat poop cause car accidents?
As we discussed, cats are the main carriers of this pathogen. It makes sense that upon excretion, the parasite can come into contact with basically anything. You might just clean the litterbox or even do a bit of gardening and end up getting infected. We are also susceptible to picking it up by eating rare meat or game meat.
Who would think that a purring kitten could be the carrier of such a dangerous parasite?
Since many people either own cats or eat meat, it comes as no surprise that almost 50% of the population harbors this pathogen, at least as a hidden infection.
It is especially dangerous to pregnant women, children and generally people who suffer from a weakened immune system. for an average healthy adult, the symptoms might just consist of diarrhea, fatigue, and fever.
Seems like it’s easily curable, but the parasite can linger in the brain tissue during your whole life. It’s frightening to think that it can even be transferred to an unborn child and cause you to behave like you had an actual psychological illness.
Observing mice had scientists think about how this pathogen could increase the same risks and mental distortions in humans – it is certainly something to think about and avoid if possible. There is brief research available for the public to read here, albeit the disease is not fully understood yet.
If you are already susceptible to depression, be very mindful of Toxoplasmosis!
Attacking neurons, the messengers of our brain
The Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology and the Otto-von-Guericke University of Magdeburg can be credited with the discovery of the metabolism-altering activity of Toxoplasma gondii. Their research was published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.
The parasite enters the body through digestion and can reside in nerve cells for an indefinite amount of time. This, of course, can alter the signaling capacity of said cells, it can affect more than 300 synaptic proteins in the brain.
Is this parasite capable of rewiring basic instincts in rodents?
Immunology expert Ildiko Rita Dunay draws a parallel between certain malfunctions in synapses, stating that they can indeed increase the risk of certain mental illnesses. These enzyme levels were observed before and recognized in the case of Toxoplasmosis as well, and an immune reaction might be triggering.
The good news is, that scientists can readily use these studies both for finding an actual cure and to research other illnesses that are not well understood yet!
The cure exists
Thankfully there is an antibiotic compound called sulfadiazine that was capable of restoring normal metabolic functions in the brain of mice.
The team in Magdeburg added that the malfunctioning protein levels went back to normal after the admission of the antibiotic, and the inflammation associated with the pathogen decreased.
Let’s hope the mice returned to their original state of avoiding cats, as well!