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Parasitology. 1994 Dec;109 ( Pt 5):583-9.

The effect of Toxoplasma gondii and other parasites on activity levels in wild and hybrid Rattus norvegicus.

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Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.


Using both correlational and experimental evidence, the relationship between parasite load and host activity was assessed in brown rats, Rattus norvegicus. Two hypotheses were tested--(1) that parasites with indirect life-cycles, involving transmission between a prey and its predator, will alter the activity of the intermediate host so as to increase its susceptibility to predation by the definitive host and (2) that activity levels in parasitized rats would be increased rather than decreased. Four groups of rats (n = 140) were examined. One group (n = 50) were wild brown rats trapped from 3 UK farmsteads, with naturally occurring parasites. The others were purpose-bred wild/laboratory hybrid rats with experimentally induced parasitic infections of either (n = 15) adult-acquired or (n = 15) congenitally-acquired Toxoplasma gondii (an indirect life-cycle parasite), or (n = 15) Syphacia muris (a direct life-cycle parasite). Uninfected hybrid rats ( n = 45), matched for sex, age and weight, served as controls. Rats were housed individually in outdoor cages, and their activities were recorded on video-tapes for 6 non-consecutive 10 h nights. Exercise wheels were also available for the hybrid rats. Out of 6 parasite species detected in the wild rats, T. gondii was the only one which required predation by a definitive host to complete its life-cycle, and was also the only parasite to be associated with higher activity levels in infected than uninfected rats. Hybrid rats infected with T. gondii were also more active than those uninfected, whereas there were no differences in activity levels between S. muris infected and uninfected rats. This study shows that the indirect life-cycle parasite T. gondii can influence the activity of its intermediate host the rat. I suggest that this may facilitate its transmission to the cat definitive host.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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