How toxoplasmosis works in the brain



Research shows how protozoal toxoplasmosis can affect the functioning of the brain. The illness is associated with schizophrenia, depression and autism. Rats infected with a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis behave in a special way, lose natural fear of cats, the final host of the protozoa that cause this disease. Research shows that when exposed to the urine of cat urine, they seem to be attracted to the predator itself.

Rats infected with a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis behave strangely

Rats infected with a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis behave strangely

Photo: DW / Deutsche Welle

And just as in mice, research shows that protozoal toxoplasmosis can also cause behavioral changes in humans. Parasite is associated with schizophrenia, depression, autism and even higher risk of involvement in traffic accidents.

New research has shown how this protozoan can interfere with brain functions. Scientists at Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology have discovered how this parasite affects host brain metabolism.

Toxoplasmosis is caused by the Toxoplasma gondii element, which exists worldwide. It infects birds and mammals, including humans. However, this parasite can only be propagated sexually in the digestive system of cats and cats, which are its definitive hosts.

The pathogen of toxoplasmosis is eliminated along with the feces of cats. Transmission of the disease occurs through contact with contaminated faeces or ingestion of contaminated food and water.

It is estimated that half of the adult population of the planet is infected with this protozoan but in most cases its presence remains unnoticed and shows flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue and muscle pain as well as diarrhea. Toxoplasmosis is, however, dangerous for people with a weakened immune system and also during pregnancy.

Once infected, the parasite delivers in the muscle tissues and brain and stays asleep for the rest of their lives, in what doctors call occult infections.

According to a German study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, the parasite changes the molecular composition of the synapses that are responsible for the transmission of brain signals.

"Toxoplasma gondii is absorbed by people through digestion, it enters the bloodstream and also migrates to the brain and enters nerve cells for the rest of its life," said Karl-Heinz Smalla of the Special Laboratory of Molecular Biology Techniques on LIN.

In collaboration with the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research, scientists were able to demonstrate that the infection would alter the amount of 300 synaptic proteins in the rat brain.

Animals showed fewer proteins in the vicinity of excitatory receptors that release glutamate. At the same time, there is an increase in proteins involved in the immune response.

"The malfunction of glutamatergic synapses is associated with depression, schizophrenia, and autism, and parts of the immune response are also related to these diseases," said Ildiko Rita Dunay, who worked on the study. "This suggests that immune responses can cause synapse changes that can lead to neurological disorders," he adds.

Scientists have also found that sulfadiazine, an antibiotic used to treat toxoplasmosis, can normalize the metabolism of the brain infected with mice. "All the analyzed proteins responsible for the transmission of the glutamatergic signal returned to normal and the inflammatory activity also declined measurably," said Björn Schott, a research scientist.

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Deutsche Welle
Deutsche Welle is a German international television station and produces independent journalism in 30 languages.


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