Brain parasite directly alters brain chemistry

November 4, 2011

A research group from the University of Leeds has shown that infection by the brain parasite Toxoplasma gondii, found in 10-20 per cent of the UK's population, directly affects the production of dopamine, a key chemical messenger in the brain.

Their findings are the first to demonstrate that a parasite found in the brain of mammals can affect dopamine levels.

Whilst the work has been carried out with rodents, lead investigator Dr Glenn McConkey of the University's Faculty of Biological Sciences, believes that the findings could ultimately shed new light on treating human neurological disorders that are dopamine-related such as schizophrenia, , and Parkinson's disease.

This research may explain how these , remarkably, manipulate rodents' behaviour for their own advantage. Infected mice and rats lose their innate fear of cats, increasing the chances of being caught and eaten, which enables the parasite to return to its main host to complete its life cycle.

In this study, funded by the Stanley Medical Research Institute and Dunhill Medical Trust, the research team found that the parasite causes production and release of many times the normal amount of dopamine in infected .

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 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.

These findings build on earlier studies in which Dr McConkey's group found that the parasite actually encodes the enzyme for producing dopamine in its genome.

"Based on these analyses, it was clear that T. gondii can orchestrate a significant increase in dopamine production in ," says Dr McConkey.

"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."

Dr McConkey says his next experiments will investigate how the parasite enzyme triggers dopamine production and how this may change behaviour.

Explore further: Dopamine controls formation of new brain cells

Related Stories

Dopamine controls formation of new brain cells

April 8, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- A study of the salamander brain has led researchers at Karolinska Institutet to discover a hitherto unknown function of the neurotransmitter dopamine. In an article published in the prestigious scientific ...

Recommended for you

Drug found that induces apoptosis in myofibroblasts reducing fibrosis in scleroderma

December 15, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—An international team of researchers has found that the drug navitoclax can induce apoptosis (self-destruction) in myofibroblasts in mice, reducing the spread of fibrosis in scleroderma. In their paper ...

How defeating THOR could bring a hammer down on cancer

December 14, 2017
It turns out Thor, the Norse god of thunder and the Marvel superhero, has special powers when it comes to cancer too.

Researchers track muscle stem cell dynamics in response to injury and aging

December 14, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) describes the biology behind why muscle stem cells respond differently to aging or injury. The findings, published in Cell Stem Cell, ...

'Human chronobiome' study informs timing of drug delivery, precision medicine approaches

December 13, 2017
Symptoms and efficacy of medications—and indeed, many aspects of the human body itself—vary by time of day. Physicians tell patients to take their statins at bedtime because the related liver enzymes are more active during ...

Time of day affects severity of autoimmune disease

December 12, 2017
Insights into how the body clock and time of day influence immune responses are revealed today in a study published in leading international journal Nature Communications. Understanding the effect of the interplay between ...

Estrogen discovery could shed new light on fertility problems

December 12, 2017
Estrogen produced in the brain is necessary for ovulation in monkeys, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who have upended the traditional understanding of the hormonal cascade that leads to release ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Bob_Kob
not rated yet Nov 05, 2011
I keep hearing shit about this parasite, but what can I do to get rid of it?
PCB
not rated yet Nov 09, 2011
To get rid of it, the best known treatment is Spiramycin (a macrolide antibiotic). Unfortunately, it's still considered experimental is the US, so you'll need to visit a Doc in Canada, Mexico or Europe. Although this seems unlucky for those in the US, it's actually a boon, since the types/mutations of Toxoplasma gondii in the US are less likely to be resistant. And, don't let your Doc talk you into settling for general infection tests; get tested specifically for Toxoplasma gondii. -PC
kaasinees
not rated yet Nov 09, 2011
Does this apply to all forms of toxoplasmosis or only gondi?
I think toxoplasmosis of the general population is much higher than 10-20 percent.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.