Toxoplasma Gondii is parasitic protozoa in the genus of Toxoplasma, and is the one of the most common parasites known to man. Between 30% to 50% of the population globally is infected with the disease, which is easily transferable from cat to human through fecal matter.
A new study released Friday, December 7, 2012 by a team of researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden is indicating an association of the parasite with mental illness, and establishes an entry point where the parasite infiltrates the subject’s brain in an attempt to influence the patient.
“We believe that this knowledge may be important for further understanding of complex interactions in some major public health issues, that modern science still hasn’t been able to explain fully”, says Antonio Barragan, researcher at the Center for infectious medicine at Karolinska Institutet and the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control. “At the same time, it’s important to emphasize that humans have lived with this parasite for many millennia, so today’s carriers of Toxoplasma need not be particularly worried.”
The scientific journal PLoS Pathogens published the study which was led by Dr. Barragan and researched in conjunction with Uppsala University, the oldest University in Sweden, dating back to 1477.
The parasite causes the disease toxoplasmosis, and is generally a minor affliction characterized by flulike symptoms and is usually fought off by the body’s own immune system. However serious or even fatal effects may occur in persons with a immunodeficiency syndrome, like HIV/AIDS, or an unborn fetus whose mother contracted the disease during her pregnancy.
Humans that carry the parasite generally picked up the disease from eating undercooked meat, especially lamb, pork, and venison or by coming into contact with soil contaminated by feline feces, or by drinking contaminated water.
The infection presents itself in 2 different stages and normally Daraprim is the antibiotic given for Toxoplasma infections during the active infection stage, and treatment during the latent infection stage cannot be realized, so once infected the patient is infected forever.
Once the brain is infected with the parasite it begins to affect the neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA is a neuro-signaling system that suppresses feelings of anxiety and fear in the human body. It is often seen in people with different bipolar diseases such as depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety syndrome as well as other mental disorders.
“For Toxoplasma to make cells in the immune defense system secrete GABA was as surprising as it was unexpected, and it is very clever of the parasite,” says Dr. Barragan. “It would now be worth studying the links that exist between toxoplasmosis, the GABA systems and major public health threats.”
Toxoplasma has been linked to prenatal depression, as well as increased anxiety and depression in pregnant women. It has also been linked to mental disturbances including schizophrenia and suicidal behavior.
Article by Jim Donahue