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Mechanisms underlying Toxoplasma gondii-mediated behavioral changes of its host
Advisorvan der Linden, Alexander M.
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Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that can infiltrate different hosts and alter behavior. It can create an attraction to cat urine in rats or influence a culture. Different mechanisms have been proposed in the pursuit of understanding the control T. gondii has on its host, including the modulation of dopamine or circulating testosterone levels, or the formation of cysts in specific areas of the brain. Based on a thorough literature research and the correlation between parasite infection and schizophrenic symptoms, dopamine modulation is hypothesized to be the central area for the parasite’s control within this thesis. Dopamine is able to induce critical behavioral changes associated with parasite infection, and dopamine stabilizing drugs convert the host to normal behavior. Moreover, T. gondii’s codes for genes that creates enzymes and pathways for dopamine production. Other hypotheses were found to lack support: cyst formation was inconsistent and the hormone testosterone lacked the ability to change crucial behaviors associated with infection. Thus, the dopamine pathway plays a key role in T.gondii-mediated behavioral manipulation of the host.