The parasite that is implicated in the so-called cat lady suicides enters the human brain via “Trojan horse” cells, scientists believe.
The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), is found in cat feces. T. gondii infects about 25% of the human population across the world who have direct contact with cats or eat undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables. In humans, the infection can cause severe neurological problems for those with weakened immune systems.
The previous study from Denmark found that women infected with T. gondii are possibly at a higher risk for suicide.
Based on these new findings from Sweden’s Center for Infectious Medicine, The Independent of London provides specifics of how T. gondii can mess with your mind:
“A food-borne parasite that infects domestic cats can get inside the human brain by commandeering special cells of the immune system which it uses as a Trojan horse to enter the central nervous system, a study has found.
“Scientists believe they have finally discovered the mechanism that allows Toxoplasmagondii – a single-celled parasite – to pass from the human gut to the brain where it may cause behavioral changes.
“Researchers have shown that the parasite can infect the dendritic white blood cells of the immune system causing them to secrete a chemical neurotransmitter that allows the infected cells, and the parasite, to cross the natural barrier protecting the brain.”
T. gondii was described in the previous cat lady suicide study from Denmark as a “major public health problem,” and indeed, the parasite has, in the past, been linked with mental illness, schizophrenia, and major behavioral changes. Among those generally infected, the risk of suicide was about one and a half times higher, but again, this risk increased among those who had more severe infections.
This new findings are published in the PLOS Pathogens journal and are based on a study of human dendritic cells growing in a test tube that began to secrete the neurotransmitter GABA.
According to Dr. Antonio Barragan, “we’ve shown for the first time how the parasite behaves in the body of its host, by which I mean how it enters the brain and manipulates the host by taking over the brain’s neurotransmitters.”
If you are a cat lady, or a cat man, are you concerned about T. gondii?
[Image credit: Alvesgaspar]