Up to 50 percent of worldwide populace is contaminated by the ‘cat parasite’ Toxoplasma gondii, and in a few areas, the disease rate is as high as 95 percent. Unless you get tested, there’s no chance to knowing that you’re contaminated, yet it’s been connected with various mental disorders, for example, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Yes, Toxoplasma is all over the place, keeping in mind the jury is still out on the amount it really disturbs our minds, researchers have at last made sense of why it’s so great at dodging our body’s immune response.
For the uninitiated, Toxoplasma is a cat borne parasite that causes Toxoplasmosis – a disease that is viewed as “asymptomatic” in most healthy people, but can lead to a range of different disorders in those with compromised immune systems, for example, pregnant women and the elderly.
While most specialists wouldn’t recommend you bother testing for Toxoplasma unless you’re at risk of becoming sick from it, studies have turned up curious links between it and certain host practices.
Toxoplasma may even murder the same number of people as malaria, or if nothing else a million people a year, in light of how it seems to change our reaction to dangerous circumstances.
Past research has found that when mice are tainted by Toxoplasma, they lose their innate fear of cat urine, and show indications of disabled working memory.
It’s been hypothensised that the parasite messes with rodent brains to help it finish its life cycle, and throughout recent years, researchers have been examining if something comparative is happening in its human hosts.
“There is an entrancing relationship between Toxoplasma contamination and psychiatric diseases including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” says parasite scientist Chris Tonkin from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia.
While there appears to be something strange going ahead with people infected by Toxoplasma, the logical proof is frustratingly inconclusive.
Yet, there’s one thing about Toxoplasma that is a long way from ambiguous – its capacity to control our immune response.
The way that in a few regions of the world, practically the whole local population is infected shows exactly how successful this parasite is, and its prosperity lies in its capacity to hit a sensitive balance with our immune system.
Toxoplasma has managed to keep the body’s immune response to it sufficiently low to guarantee that it can in any case thrive in its human hosts, yet high enough that the people who are infected can live a healthy life as one giant parasite incubator.
And now scientists have figured out how.
Under ordinary conditions, when cells in your body detect a parasite, a series of molecular signals will activate a protein called p38α, provoking it to move into the cells’ nuclei. Here, it activates the genes that trigger an inflammatory response to take out the pathogen.
Interestingly, rather than just blocking those signals, Toxoplasma gets its way by doing the exact opposite: Bowler and his group found that the parasite actually kickstarts the human inflammatory reaction, and continues to control it according its own needs.
The examination depended on a previous study led by Mohamed-Ali Hakimi from the Institute of Advances Bioscience in France, who found that Toxoplasma secretes a protein called GRA24 that actuates the protein p38α directly, before the body’s own immune system can get included.
The group has now figured out that GRA24 binds much more strongly to p33α than the phone’s own proteins do, and this permits it to control the level of immune reaction that the body dishes up.
At the same time, the Toxoplasma protein also prevents the body from switching off the inflammatory response, which is why the disease can be so dangerous in people who already have weakened immune systems.
The tight control of the inflammatory signalling avoids either too weak a reaction leading, making it impossible to host death, or too strong a reaction preventing invasion,” the group concludes.
While it’s a little disconcerting to find out just how easily this parasite can manipulate our entire immune system, the research could help scientists to develop more effective anti-inflammatory drugs.
At this moment, they’re all focussed on obstructing the activity of p33α, however Toxoplasma has shown how a comparable impact could be gotten from finding an option way to activate and control it.
Classic cats. We feed them and love them and all we get in return is a parasite that knows more about our immune response than we do