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
SEP 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
What the Sun's New Weather Cycle Means for Earth
SEP 17, 2020
What the Sun's New Weather Cycle Means for Earth
Scientists have confirmed that the sun is nine months into a new solar cycle, and that this 11-year cycle will resemble ...
OCT 07, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Discovery of Phosphine on Venus - What Does It Mean?
OCT 07, 2020
Discovery of Phosphine on Venus - What Does It Mean?
A Nature Astronomy paper in September, titled "Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus", has led t ...
FEB 10, 2021
Plants & Animals
Is the Nano-Chameleon the World's Smallest Reptile Species?
FEB 10, 2021
Is the Nano-Chameleon the World's Smallest Reptile Species?
Say “hello!” to the nano-chameleon, a top contender for the world’s smallest reptile. According to the ...
MAR 09, 2021
Plants & Animals
Sea Slug Shows Extreme Case of Regeneration
MAR 09, 2021
Sea Slug Shows Extreme Case of Regeneration
Some of the most interesting—and possibly strangest—scientific discoveries happen by accident. According to ...
MAR 26, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Iconic Bald Eagles are Thriving
MAR 26, 2021
Iconic Bald Eagles are Thriving
Once dangerously on the brink of extinction, bald eagle populations are thriving throughout the lower 48 states of the U ...
APR 12, 2021
Space & Astronomy
5,200 Tons of Space Dust Fall to Earth Each Year
APR 12, 2021
5,200 Tons of Space Dust Fall to Earth Each Year
An international team of scientists has found that each year, 5,200 tons of dust falls from space to Earth. This far out ...
Loading Comments...