Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Parasite-infected rodents attracted to cat odor

Date:
August 17, 2011
Source:
Public Library of Science
Summary:
New research shows how a brain parasite can manipulate rodent fear responses for the parasite's own benefit. The single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii makes infected rodents more likely to spend time near cat odors.

The single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii makes infected rodents more likely to spend time near cat odors.
Credit: © Pakhnyushchyy / Fotolia

New research shows how a brain parasite can manipulate rodent fear responses for the parasite's own benefit. The study, authored by Patrick House and Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University and released this week in PloS One, addressed how the single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii makes infected rodents more likely to spend time near cat odors.

The study finds Toxoplasma-infected male rats have altered activation in brain regions involved in fear and increased activation of brain regions involved in sexual attraction after exposure to cat odors. The findings may help explain the biological bases of innate fear and sexual attraction.

Toxoplasma requires the cat digestive system for sexual reproduction. Infected rodents, with reduced fear response to cat odors, are presumably more susceptible to predation by cats, thereby enabling completion of the parasite lifecycle. Toxoplasma is manipulating the fear response specifically to the urine of cats -- infected rats behave normally on anxiety, fear, social and memory tasks, and retain fear behavior to non-feline predator odors.

"These findings support the idea that in the rat, Toxoplasma is shifting the emotional salience of the detection of the cat. They also suggest that fear and attraction might lie on the same spectrum, or at least that the emotional processing of fear and attraction are not entirely unrelated," House said.

The study does not advance evidence for how Toxoplasma is altering the brain, only evidence that it does. Previous research showed that Toxoplasma invades the brain of the host and settles near the amygdala, a region involved in a wide range of fear and emotional behaviors. This study extends these findings by showing that not only is Toxoplasma found in the amygdala of infected male rat hosts, but it also changes the way certain subregions of the amygdala respond to cat odor -- specifically, by increasing neural activity in the presence of cat odor in regions normally activated by exposure to a female rat.

Up to a third of humans test positive for Toxoplasma, due largely to the consumption of undercooked meat or contact with cat litter. In humans, Toxoplasma exposure is most dangerous to developing fetuses and pregnant women. However, many recent studies find Toxoplasma exposure linked with schizophrenia, a disease noted for amygdala dysfunction and improper emotional response, compelling further investigation into what exactly Toxoplasma is doing in the host brain.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Patrick K. House, Ajai Vyas, Robert Sapolsky. Predator Cat Odors Activate Sexual Arousal Pathways in Brains of Toxoplasma gondii Infected Rats. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (8): e23277 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023277

Cite This Page:

Public Library of Science. "Parasite-infected rodents attracted to cat odor." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 August 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110817175920.htm>.
Public Library of Science. (2011, August 17). Parasite-infected rodents attracted to cat odor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110817175920.htm
Public Library of Science. "Parasite-infected rodents attracted to cat odor." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110817175920.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Snack Attack: Study Says Action Movies Make You Snack More

Snack Attack: Study Says Action Movies Make You Snack More

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — You're more likely to gain weight while watching action flicks than you are watching other types of programming, says a new study published in JAMA. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Get A Mortgage, Receive A Cat — Only In Russia

Get A Mortgage, Receive A Cat — Only In Russia

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — The incentive is in keeping with a Russian superstition that it's good luck for a cat to be the first to cross the threshold of a new home. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — The U.N. says the problem is two-fold — quarantine zones and travel restrictions are limiting the movement of both people and food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sharks Off the Menu and on the Tourist Trail in Palau

Sharks Off the Menu and on the Tourist Trail in Palau

AFP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Tourists in Palau clamour to dive with sharks thanks to a pioneering conservation initiative -- as the island nation plans to completely ban commercial fishing in its vast ocean territory. 01:15 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Parasite Uses the Power of Attraction to Trick Rats Into Becoming Cat Food

Aug. 19, 2011 — Rats infected with the parasite Toxoplasma seem to lose their fear of cats -- or at least cat urine. Now researchers have discovered the brains of those infected, fearless male rats show activity in ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins