AUG 26, 2017 7:15 AM PDT

Sneaky Parasite Uses Cats to Infect Human Brains

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

A staggering 30-50% of the world's population is estimated to be infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite is known to invade the brain and affect behaviors

Toxoplasma gondii, also known colloquially as "Toxo," can infect virtually any warm-blooded animal. However, the parasite can only undergo sexual reproduction in domesticated cats, and so most people know Toxo as the disease that humans can get from changing and accidentally ingesting contaminated cat litter.

Toxoplasmosis, the disease caused by Toxo, can be life threatening for people with compromised immune systems, such as infants, cancer patients, or HIV/AIDS patients. In addition, pregnant women can transmit the parasite to their unborn baby. Toxo invasion of the brain has been linked to adverse behavioral changes, and has been implicated in psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia. Although the precise mechanism of how the parasite invades the brain is still under active investigation, a team at Penn captured Toxo invasion in the brain through the endothelial cells, which make up the lining of blood vessels. The mechanisms behind Toxo's invasion may also illuminate how other pathogens breach our defense to the brain.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
APR 15, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
APR 15, 2020
Pandemic Maths: Why Time Doesn't Matter in Understanding Infection Trajectory
There's no doubt that a lot of our current attention goes to the COVID-19 infection cases, as media outlets publish ...
APR 20, 2020
Earth & The Environment
APR 20, 2020
Deepwater Horizon: 10 Years Later
Today marks the tenth year since the Deepwater Horizon disaster—the most massive accidental offshore oil spill eve ...
APR 28, 2020
Space & Astronomy
APR 28, 2020
NASA's Swift Telescope Measured the Water Loss of This Interstellar Comet
When the interstellar comet 2l/Borisov made its first appearance in our solar system, astronomers were quick to turn the ...
MAY 17, 2020
Plants & Animals
MAY 17, 2020
Male Garter Snakes Trick Others to Improve Own Mating Success
After spending several months in hibernation during the winter, male garter snakes emerge from the underground where the ...
MAY 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAY 31, 2020
Another SpaceX Starship Prototype Explodes During Testing
Incomplete Starship prototypes are a common sight if you follow SpaceX’s plethora of rocket-centric projects, but ...
JUN 08, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JUN 08, 2020
Celebrating World Oceans Day
Today is World Oceans Day! According to the United Nations, World Oceans Day has been celebrated since 1992 and was desi ...
Loading Comments...