Findings of a new study suggest that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii may permanently alter the brain function in mice and rodents.
The said parasite adjusts the brain to such an extent that these animals do not fret the cat urine. In normal life, mice and rodents run away from cats and they sense the arrival of the latter through its urine.
Cyst in neurons
The ‘wonder parasite’ acts as soon as it is administered and continues to control the brain even after it is removed.
“I want to know how the behavioral change is happening,” said Wendy Ingram of the University of California.
In general, T. gondii tends to form a cyst in neurons. “It was assumed that the cysts … were doing something biologically that is actively changing the behavior,” averred Ingram.
T. gondii has been the talk of the town of cat lovers. It completely reverses the innate fear that rodents have of cats. In fact, the fear is turned into love and affection and the rodents develop a liking for the cat pee.
The affected rodents are thus more likely to be caught a cat vis-à-vis rodents that do not carry T. gondii. The parasite has the potency to reproduce in the cat’s gut and also alter its behavior.
The findings of the study find mention in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.
Affects humans as well
In some cases, T. gondii is known to affect the humans as well and create a condition called encephalitis; a state of brain inflammation.
Humans with compromised immune systems especially pregnant women are more susceptible to the parasite. In general the human immune system is geared to ward off the parasite and stop any adverse consequences arising thereof.
“More than 60 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.
However one should not throw caution to the wind as T. gondii can cause dreaded medical conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disease (BPD), and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).