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PLoS One. 2013 Sep 18;8(9):e75246. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075246. eCollection 2013.

Mice infected with low-virulence strains of Toxoplasma gondii lose their innate aversion to cat urine, even after extensive parasite clearance.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California, United States of America.


Toxoplasma gondii chronic infection in rodent secondary hosts has been reported to lead to a loss of innate, hard-wired fear toward cats, its primary host. However the generality of this response across T. gondii strains and the underlying mechanism for this pathogen-mediated behavioral change remain unknown. To begin exploring these questions, we evaluated the effects of infection with two previously uninvestigated isolates from the three major North American clonal lineages of T. gondii, Type III and an attenuated strain of Type I. Using an hour-long open field activity assay optimized for this purpose, we measured mouse aversion toward predator and non-predator urines. We show that loss of innate aversion of cat urine is a general trait caused by infection with any of the three major clonal lineages of parasite. Surprisingly, we found that infection with the attenuated Type I parasite results in sustained loss of aversion at times post infection when neither parasite nor ongoing brain inflammation were detectable. This suggests that T. gondii-mediated interruption of mouse innate aversion toward cat urine may occur during early acute infection in a permanent manner, not requiring persistence of parasite cysts or continuing brain inflammation.

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