Toxoplasma Parasite Might Alter Behavior

By Jasper Nikki De La Cruz | Dec 10, 2015 12:04 AM EST

Researchers have discovered the ways on killing Toxoplasma gondii that survive for decades and undetected in humans. This discovery could actually lead to a vaccine that would prevent even the most at-risk people, like pregnant women, from being infected.

A predominantly Melbourne-based research team had laid down how the parasite stockpiles food. These food supplies give the parasite energy for decades. The potential mechanism of the parasite in changing the brain cells might be studied further with the statistics drawn out from the research.

Toxoplasma is a common parasite that is transmitted by cats and is also found in raw and undercooked meat. When it comes into the human system, the parasite hijacks the cells in the brain, lungs and muscles including the heart.

Lead author Dr. Chris Tonkin, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, estimated that 35 percent of the Australian population carries the parasite. These parasites could remain dormant for the entirety of a person's lifetime without being discovered until obvious symptoms come out.

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Those who are at-risk and immuno-compromised  people such as HIV victims and cancer patients have a higher chance of reactivating the parasite and leads to neurological damage and even death.

"Toxoplasma infection leads to massive changes in the host cell to prevent immune attack and enable it to acquire a steady nutrient supply," Dr. Tonkin quipped. "The parasite achieves this by sending proteins into the host cell that manipulate the host's own cellular pathways, enabling it to grow and reproduce."

Toxoplasma parasites stockpiled large amounts of starch when they "hibernate" inside the body, thus evading the body's natural immune system. The team fortunately found CDPK2, the regulatory switch that controls the starch storage.

"If you remove that switch the parasite can no longer control the amount of starch it stores," Dr. Tonkin commented. "It hyper-accumulates starch and literally blows itself up, it explodes."

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