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.

Related Articles


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 January 27, 2015 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 January 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Aquaponics Turn Suburban Industrial Park Into Farmland: Hume

Aquaponics Turn Suburban Industrial Park Into Farmland: Hume

The Toronto Star (Jan. 27, 2015) Ancient techniques of growing greens with fish and water are well ahead of Toronto bylaws. Video provided by The Toronto Star
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chihuahua Sleeps on Top of Great Dane

Chihuahua Sleeps on Top of Great Dane

Rumble (Jan. 27, 2015) As this giant Great Dane lays down for bedtime he accompanied by an adorable companion. Watch a tiny Chihuahua jump up and prepare to sleep on top of his friend. Now that&apos;s a pretty big bed! Credit to &apos;emma_hussey01&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Bite Victim Making Amazing Recovery

Shark Bite Victim Making Amazing Recovery

AP (Jan. 27, 2015) A Texas woman who lost more than five pounds of flesh to a shark in the Bahamas earlier this month could be released from a Florida hospital soon. Experts believe she was bitten by a bull shark while snorkeling. (Jan. 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How To: Mixed Green Salad Topped With Camembert Cheese

How To: Mixed Green Salad Topped With Camembert Cheese

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) Learn how to make a mixed green salad topped with a pan-seared camembert cheese in only a minute! Music: Courtesy of Audio Network. Video provided by Rumble
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

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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