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Parasite may affect dopamine production


There may be a common parasite at work in the brains of Brits affecting their dopamine production. Research shows that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii is found in 10-20% of the UK’s population. It is affecting the production of dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain.

This is the first research team to show that parasites can affect the production of certain brain chemicals, in this case dopamine. Admittedly, the research has only been conducted on rodents in the lab, but lead investigator Dr. Glenn McConkey of the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences believes that these findings will shed light on the treatment of human neurological disorders. Schizophrenia for instance is a dopamine-related illness as is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Parkinson’s disease.

What the parasite does is remarkable. In its natural environment, it infects a rat and creates a brain cyst that releases dopamine. The dopamine causes the rat to lose its inhibitions which makes it easier for a cat to kill. The cat then ingests the parasite returning the parasite to its favorite host, the cat.

Dopamine is a natural chemical which relays messages of movement, cognition and behavior. It controls the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. It regulates emotional responses like fear.

“Humans are accidental hosts to T. gondii and the parasite could end up anywhere in the brain, so human symptoms of toxoplasmosis infection may depend on where parasite ends up. This may explain the observed statistical link between incidences of schizophrenia and toxoplasmosis infection,” said Dr. McConkey.

Toxoplasmosis is relatively common with about 10-20% of the UK population carrying the parasite. It is on unwashed vegetables and uncooked meats. Most people remain healthy while carrying the parasite.

Source: University of Leeds, ScienceDaily

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