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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Apr 22;273(1589):1023-30.

Parasites as causative agents of human affective disorders? The impact of anti-psychotic, mood-stabilizer and anti-parasite medication on Toxoplasma gondii's ability to alter host behaviour.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Oxford South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3SY, UK. joanne.webster@imperial.ac.uk

Abstract

With increasing pressure to understand transmissible agents, renewed recognition of infectious causation of both acute and chronic diseases is occurring. Epidemiological and neuropathological studies indicate that some cases of schizophrenia may be associated with environmental factors, such as exposure to the ubiquitous protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. Reasons for this include T. gondii's ability to establish persistent infection within the central nervous system, its ability to manipulate intermediate host behaviour, the occurrence of neurological and psychiatric symptoms in some infected individuals, and an association between infection with increased incidence of schizophrenia. Moreover, several of the medications used to treat schizophrenia and other psychiatric disease have recently been demonstrated in vitro to possess anti-parasitic, and in particular anti-T. gondii, properties. Our aim here was thus to test the hypothesis that the anti-psychotic and mood stabilizing activity of some medications may be achieved, or at least augmented, through their in vivo inhibition of T. gondii replication and invasion in infected individuals. In particular we predicted, using the epidemiologically and clinically applicable rat-T. gondii model system, and following a previously described and neurologically characterized 'feline attraction' protocol that haloperidol (an anti-psychotic used in the treatment of mental illnesses including schizophrenia) and/or valproic acid (a mood stabilizer used in the treatment of mental illnesses including schizophrenia), would be, at least, as effective in preventing the development of T. gondii-associated behavioural and cognitive alterations as the standard anti-T. gondii chemotherapeutics pyrimethamine with Dapsone. We demonstrate that, while T. gondii appears to alter the rats' perception of predation risk turning their innate aversion into a 'suicidal' feline attraction, anti-psychotic drugs prove as efficient as anti-T. gondii drugs in preventing such behavioural alterations. Our results have important implications regarding the aetiology and treatment of such disorders.

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