Parasite From Cat Litter May Give You Personality Disorders, Schizophrenia, More

You may want to maintain a clean space around your cat. Researchers have found that a parasite commonly found in cat litter, farm animals and undercooked meat could cause changes in the brain, leading to sudden mood disorders, seizures and schizophrenia. 

The new study, published in GLIA, shows the effects of a Toxoplasma gondii parasite on the brain’s inhibitory neurons. These important neurons help regulate the flow of ions, which if disrupted could cause different brain disorders.

Researchers at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Virginia found that the microscopic parasites could get inside the neurons and cause signaling errors. The disrupted signaling then contributes to schizophrenia, seizures, personality and mood disorders and vision changes.

Up to 40 million people in the U.S. are exposed to the Toxoplasma parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency said the parasitic infection commonly causes unnoticeable or flu-like symptoms in healthy people. 

However, chronic infection may have serious effects. The study shows that the parasite could build microscopic cysts inside neurons in some people. 

“After the initial infection, humans will enter a phase of chronic infection,” Michael Fox, lead study author and a professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, said in a statement. “The theory is that neurons are a great place to hide because they fail to produce some molecules that could attract cells of the immune system.”

Brain problems potentially occur after long-term Toxoplasma infections because of loss of inhibitory synapses. Fox said similar changes were found in previous research on neuropsychiatric disorders. 

To further understand how the parasite causes changes in the brain, the team exposed mice to similar Toxoplasma infection that affects humans. The infected animals exhibited unusual behaviors after exposure, with some mice losing situational processing, displaying a lack of fear and approaching predators, such as cats.

“Even though a lot of neuroscientists study Toxoplasma infection as a model for immune response in the brain, we want to understand what this parasite does to rewire the brain, leading to these dramatic shifts in behavior,” Fox said.

The researchers plan to continue the study and focus on how other cells contribute to the parasite’s effects on the brain.

Schizophrenia People with schizophrenia may experience behavioral changes, cognitive problems, hallucinations, lack of pleasure and reduced emotional expression. Pixabay