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Physiol Behav. 2003 Aug;79(3):441-9.

Parasite manipulation of the proximate mechanisms that mediate social behavior in vertebrates.

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W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205-2179, USA.


Paul MacLean was instrumental in establishing the brain regions that mediate the expression of social behaviors in vertebrates. Pathogens can exploit these central mechanisms to alter host social behaviors, including aggressive, reproductive, and parental behaviors. Although some behavioral changes after infection are mediated by the host (e.g., sickness behaviors), other behavioral modifications are mediated by the pathogen to facilitate transmission. The goal of this review is to provide examples of parasite-mediated changes in social behavior and to illustrate that parasites affect host behavior by infecting neurons, causing central nervous system (CNS) inflammation, and altering neurotransmitter and hormonal communication. Secondarily, a comparative approach will be used to demonstrate that the effects of parasites on social behavior are retained across several classes of vertebrates possibly because parasites affect the phylogenetically primitive structures of the limbic system and related neurochemical systems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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