Behavioral changes induced by Toxoplasma infection of rodents are highly specific to aversion of cat odors
The protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii blocks the innate aversion of rats for cat urine, instead producing an attraction to the pheromone; this may increase the likelihood of a cat predating a rat. This is thought to reflect adaptive, behavioral manipulation by Toxoplasma in that the parasite, although capable of infecting rats, reproduces sexually only in the gut of the cat. The “behavioral manipulation” hypothesis postulates that a parasite will specifically manipulate host behaviors essential for enhancing its own transmission. However, the neural circuits implicated in innate fear, anxiety, and learned fear all overlap considerably, raising the possibility that Toxoplasma may disrupt all of these nonspecifically. We investigated these conflicting predictions. In mice and rats, latent Toxoplasma infection converted the aversion to feline odors into attraction. Such loss of fear is remarkably specific, because infection did not diminish learned fear, anxiety-like behavior, olfaction, or nonaversive learning. These effects are associated with a tendency for parasite cysts to be more abundant in amygdalar structures than those found in other regions of the brain. By closely examining other types of behavioral patterns that were predicted to be altered we show that the behavioral effect of chronic Toxoplasma infection is highly specific. Overall, this study provides a strong argument in support of the behavioral manipulation hypothesis. Proximate mechanisms of such behavioral manipulations remain unknown, although a subtle tropism on part of the parasite remains a potent possibility. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1851063/
Toxoplasma gondii: The best terrestrial biological weapon against extraterrestrial invaders?
Chronic Toxoplasma infection modifies the structure and the risk of host behavior.
Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Oeiras, Portugal.
The intracellular parasite Toxoplasma has an indirect life cycle, in which felids are the definitive host. It has been suggested that this parasite developed mechanisms for enhancing its transmission rate to felids by inducing behavioral modifications in the intermediate rodent host. For example, Toxoplasma-infected rodents display a reduction in the innate fear of predator odor. However, animals with Toxoplasma infection acquired in the wild are more often caught in traps, suggesting that there are manipulations of intermediate host behavior beyond those that increase predation by felids. We investigated the behavioral modifications of Toxoplasma-infected mice in environments with exposed versus non-exposed areas, and found that chronically infected mice with brain cysts display a plethora of behavioral alterations. Using principal component analysis, we discovered that most of the behavioral differences observed in cyst-containing animals reflected changes in the microstructure of exploratory behavior and risk/unconditioned fear. We next examined whether these behavioral changes were related to the presence and distribution of parasitic cysts in the brain of chronically infected mice. We found no strong cyst tropism for any particular brain area but found that the distribution of Toxoplasma cysts in the brain of infected animals was not random, and that particular combinations of cyst localizations changed risk/unconditioned fear in the host. These results suggest that brain cysts in animals chronically infected with Toxoplasma alter the fine structure of exploratory behavior and risk/unconditioned fear, which may result in greater capture probability of infected rodents. These data also raise the possibility that selective pressures acted on Toxoplasma to broaden its transmission between intermediate predator hosts, in addition to felid definitive hosts. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22431975
The distribution of Toxoplasma gondii cysts in the brain of a mouse with latent toxoplasmosis: implications for the behavioral manipulation hypothesis.
Biology Section, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Praha, Czech Republic.
The highly prevalent parasite Toxoplasma gondii reportedly manipulates rodent behavior to enhance the likelihood of transmission to its definitive cat host. The proximate mechanisms underlying this adaptive manipulation remain largely unclear, though a growing body of evidence suggests that the parasite-entrained dysregulation of dopamine metabolism plays a central role. Paradoxically, the distribution of the parasite in the brain has received only scant attention.
The distributions of T. gondii cysts and histopathological lesions in the brains of CD1 mice with latent toxoplasmosis were analyzed using standard histological techniques. Mice were infected per orally with 10 tissue cysts of the avirulent HIF strain of T. gondii at six months of age and examined 18 weeks later. The cysts were distributed throughout the brain and selective tropism of the parasite toward a particular functional system was not observed. Importantly, the cysts were not preferentially associated with the dopaminergic system and absent from the hypothalamic defensive system. The striking interindividual differences in the total parasite load and cyst distribution indicate a probabilistic nature of brain infestation. Still, some brain regions were consistently more infected than others. These included the olfactory bulb, the entorhinal, somatosensory, motor and orbital, frontal association and visual cortices, and, importantly, the hippocampus and the amygdala. By contrast, a consistently low incidence of tissue cysts was recorded in the cerebellum, the pontine nuclei, the caudate putamen and virtually all compact masses of myelinated axons. Numerous perivascular and leptomeningeal infiltrations of inflammatory cells were observed, but they were not associated with intracellular cysts.
The observed pattern of T. gondii distribution stems from uneven brain colonization during acute infection and explains numerous behavioral abnormalities observed in the chronically infected rodents. Thus, the parasite can effectively change behavioral phenotype of infected hosts despite the absence of well targeted tropism.
The effects of toxoplasma infection on rodent behavior are dependent on dose of the stimulus.
Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA. email@example.com
Parasite Toxoplasma gondii blocks the innate aversion of rats for cat urine, putatively increasing the likelihood of a cat predating a rat. This is thought to reflect an adaptive behavioral manipulation, because toxoplasma can reproduce only in cat intestines. While it will be adaptive for the parasite to cause an absolute behavioral change, fitness costs associated with the manipulation itself suggest that the change is optimized and not maximized. We investigate these conflicting suggestions in the present report. Furthermore, exposure to cat odor causes long-lasting acquisition of learnt fear in the rodents. If toxoplasma manipulates emotional valence of cat odor rather than just sensory response, infection should affect learning driven by the aversive properties of the odor. As a second aim of the present study, we investigate this assertion. We demonstrate that behavioral changes in rodents induced by toxoplasma infection do not represent absolute all-or-none effects. Rather, these effects follow a non-monotonous function dependent on strength of stimulus, roughly resembling an inverted-U curve. Furthermore, infection affects conditioning to cat odor in a manner dependent upon strength of unconditioned stimulus employed. Non-monotonous relationship between behavioral manipulation and strength of cat odor agrees with the suggestion that a dynamic balance exists between benefit obtained and costs incurred by the parasite during the manipulation. This report also demonstrates that toxoplasma affects emotional valence of the cat odor as indicated by altered learned fear induced by cat odor. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17683872
Neuropsychiatric disease and Toxoplasma gondii infection.
Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, University of Strathclyde, 27 Taylor Street, Glasgow, UK.
Toxoplasma gondii infects approximately 30% of the world’s population, but causes overt clinical symptoms in only a small proportion of people. In recent years, the ability of the parasite to manipulate the behaviour of infected mice and rats and alter personality attributes of humans has been reported. Furthermore, a number of studies have now suggested T. gondii infection as a risk factor for the development of schizophrenia and depression in humans. As T. gondii forms cysts that are located in various anatomical sites including the brain during a chronic infection, it is well placed anatomically to mediate these effects directly. The T. gondii genome is known to contain 2 aromatic amino acid hydroxylases that potentially could directly affect dopamine and/or serotonin biosynthesis. However, stimulation of the immune response has also recently been associated with mood and behavioural alterations in humans, and compounds designed to alter mood, such as fluoxetine, have been demonstrated to alter aspects of immune function. Herein, the evidence for T.-gondii-induced behavioural changes relevant to schizophrenia and depression is reviewed. Potential mechanisms responsible for these changes in behaviour including the role of tryptophan metabolism and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis are discussed. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19212132
The neurotropic parasite Toxoplasma gondii increases dopamine metabolism.
Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom.
The highly prevalent parasite Toxoplasma gondii manipulates its host’s behavior. In infected rodents, the behavioral changes increase the likelihood that the parasite will be transmitted back to its definitive cat host, an essential step in completion of the parasite’s life cycle. The mechanism(s) responsible for behavioral changes in the host is unknown but two lines of published evidence suggest that the parasite alters neurotransmitter signal transduction: the disruption of the parasite-induced behavioral changes with medications used to treat psychiatric disease (specifically dopamine antagonists) and identification of a tyrosine hydroxylase encoded in the parasite genome. In this study, infection of mammalian dopaminergic cells with T. gondii enhanced the levels of K+-induced release of dopamine several-fold, with a direct correlation between the number of infected cells and the quantity of dopamine released. Immunostaining brain sections of infected mice with dopamine antibody showed intense staining of encysted parasites. Based on these analyses, T. gondii orchestrates a significant increase in dopamine metabolism in neural cells. Tyrosine hydroxylase, the rate-limiting enzyme for dopamine synthesis, was also found in intracellular tissue cysts in brain tissue with antibodies specific for the parasite-encoded tyrosine hydroxylase. These observations provide a mechanism for parasite-induced behavioral changes. The observed effects on dopamine metabolism could also be relevant in interpreting reports of psychobehavioral changes in toxoplasmosis-infected humans. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21957440
Predator cat odors activate sexual arousal pathways in brains of Toxoplasma gondii infected rats.
Program in Neuroscience, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America. firstname.lastname@example.org
Cat odors induce rapid, innate and stereotyped defensive behaviors in rats at first exposure, a presumed response to the evolutionary pressures of predation. Bizarrely, rats infected with the brain parasite Toxoplasma gondii approach the cat odors they typically avoid. Since the protozoan Toxoplasma requires the cat to sexually reproduce, this change in host behavior is thought to be a remarkable example of a parasite manipulating a mammalian host for its own benefit. Toxoplasma does not influence host response to non-feline predator odor nor does it alter behavior on olfactory, social, fear or anxiety tests, arguing for specific manipulation in the processing of cat odor. We report that Toxoplasma infection alters neural activity in limbic brain areas necessary for innate defensive behavior in response to cat odor. Moreover, Toxoplasma increases activity in nearby limbic regions of sexual attraction when the rat is exposed to cat urine, compelling evidence that Toxoplasma overwhelms the innate fear response by causing, in its stead, a type of sexual attraction to the normally aversive cat odor. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21858053
Toxoplasma gondii and Schizophrenia
Recent epidemiologic studies indicate that infectious agents may contribute to some cases of schizophrenia. In animals, infection with Toxoplasma gondii can alter behavior and neurotransmitter function. In humans, acute infection with T. gondii can produce psychotic symptoms similar to those displayed by persons with schizophrenia. Since 1953, a total of 19 studies of T. gondii antibodies in persons with schizophrenia and other severe psychiatric disorders and in controls have been reported; 18 reported a higher percentage of antibodies in the affected persons; in 11 studies the difference was statistically significant. Two other studies found that exposure to cats in childhood was a risk factor for the development of schizophrenia. Some medications used to treat schizophrenia inhibit the replication of T. gondii in cell culture. Establishing the role of T. gondii in the etiopathogenesis of schizophrenia might lead to new medications for its prevention and treatment. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/9/11/03-0143_article.htm
Toxoplasma on the brain: understanding host-pathogen interactions in chronic CNS infection.
Department of Biology, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Omaha, NE 68182, USA.
Toxoplasma gondii is a prevalent obligate intracellular parasite which chronically infects more than a third of the world’s population. Key to parasite prevalence is its ability to form chronic and nonimmunogenic bradyzoite cysts, which typically form in the brain and muscle cells of infected mammals, including humans. While acute clinical infection typically involves neurological and/or ocular damage, chronic infection has been more recently linked to behavioral changes. Establishment and maintenance of chronic infection involves a balance between the host immunity and parasite evasion of the immune response. Here, we outline the known cellular interplay between Toxoplasma gondii and cells of the central nervous system and review the reported effects of Toxoplasma gondii on behavior and neurological disease. Finally, we review new technologies which will allow us to more fully understand host-pathogen interactions. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22545203