Toxoplasma gondii is a neurotropic parasite that infects all warm-blooded animals, including humans. Its objective is to reach the intestines of felids, the definitive host in which it reproduces sexually. To do so, the parasite first infects mice and drastically alters their behaviour. The natural aversion of mice toward cats is decreased – a phenomenon called fatal attraction – making them easy preys.
Using a set of complementary behavioral tests, Ivan Rodriguez and Dominique Soldati-Favre groups showed that T. gondii lowers general anxiety in infected mice, increases explorative behaviors, and surprisingly alters predator aversion without selectivity toward felids.
Their findings refute the myth of a selective loss of cat fear in T. gondii-infected mice and point toward widespread immune-related alterations of behaviors.
The study was published in Cell Reports on January 14, 2020.