For 70 years, science has known an extremely widespread and subtle-acting parasite called Toxoplasma gondii , with which domestic cats infect the brains of their owners, causing them to change personality . Changes include increased riskiness (confirmed), slower reactions (confirmed), fondness for cats (unconfirmed, but possible), schizophrenia and paranoia (rare). Moreover, some researchers believe that “in populations where this parasite is very common, massive personality changes can lead to changes in their culture.” Fortunately, the latest scientific research allows us to hope that soon humanity will finally get rid of “feline addiction”. Toxoplasma is one of the most common parasites in developed countries. It is spread through cat droppings and uncooked meat. It is estimated that 30-80% of the population are native speakers, and the figure varies greatly from country to country. The personality changes caused are usually too insignificant and imperceptible, the same schizophrenia is not diagnosed in all patients, so for most of us it is safe. However, toxoplasmosis can have very serious consequences in people with vulnerable immune systems and in pregnant women, increasing the risk of miscarriage or birth defects in the newborn. A team of scientists from Australia has studied in detail the life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii, including the mechanism of cell uptake and food accumulation. New data may even help create a cure for toxoplasmosis. A living creature from a cat captures brain cells such as neurons. To ensure its own growth and survival, it is able to hide its existence for decades, accumulating food supplies and completely hiding from the human immune system until his death. “The parasite does this by introducing special proteins into the host cell, modifying original intracellular signaling pathways that allow it to grow and multiply,” said Chris Tonkin of Australia’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, co-author of the study.
Thanks to a closer study of the life cycle of the parasite, it is now possible to test whether mental illness is caused by the influence of the parasite. Some people are known to develop certain mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“We found that, like animals preparing for hibernation, Toxoplasma gondii builds up large amounts of starch when it goes into hibernation,” Tonkin says. “By identifying and disabling the mechanism that activates starch buildup, it has been found that the dormant parasite can be killed, preventing the spread of chronic infection.”
Scientists promise to create a vaccine that will completely prevent a cat from affecting humans, that is, eliminates the risk of infection with Toxoplasma gondii.