Scientists discover how the rampant 'cat poop parasite' controls cells
A nasty disease might not be able to travel around much longer.
- Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that can cause behavioral changes and major health problems in humans.
- A new study suggests its unique way of spreading in the body can be stopped.
- The findings are currently limited to mice, but may one day result in new treatments for people.
The archetype of the crazy cat lady is embedded in our culture. It's also a notion based on some truth, with several well-known people keeping more than a few cats for company. It is also known that a parasite often transmitted from humans to cats, Toxoplasma gondii, is associated with a variety of psychological problems, including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. That gives the crazy cat owner trope a tragically factual basis.
However, a new study of the widespread parasite offers new insights into the parasite's strange capacities to use cells as transportation. This breakthrough provides a chance at more effective treatments.
Of Mice, Men, and a Parasite
Toxoplasma gondii is a strange parasite. Capable of infecting most warm-blooded animals, it is best known for its presence in cats. Felines typically get the disease by eating something else that has it, like a bird or a mouse. When rodents are infected, the fear center of their brain gets turned down, they lose their aversion to cat odors and are much more active. These behavior changes are thought to make it more likely that a cat eats them.
People can either get Toxoplasma infections from interacting with contaminated cat litter or eating undercooked meat from something that was infected. The number of humans infected is estimated to be anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the global population, with fluctuations between countries.
In people without compromised immune systems, the disease is latent and generally asymptomatic—though some recent studies suggest subtle shifts in behavior even in these cases. In persons with compromised immune systems, the infection may become acute and cause seizures, vision problems, and confusion, among other issues.
It can be challenging to treat these infections due to the number of cells they are capable of infecting and its habit of spreading through the body quickly. Study lead author Dr. Leonardo Augusto explained this problem to Phys.org:
"One of the key problems in battling an infection like Toxoplasma is controlling its spread to other parts of the body. Upon ingestion of the parasite, it makes its way into immune cells and causes them to move—a behavior called hypermigratory activity. How these parasites cause their infected cells to start migrating is largely unknown."
This study looked at how Toxoplasma works in mice cells. Under normal conditions, certain cells undergoing stress can move to other places in the body after a protein called IRE1 is activated. Toxoplasma can activate this protein in cells that it has infected, allowing it to move around the body using the cells as a ride. In short order, it can arrive at new organs, which it then infects.
In this study, the scientists were able to deplete the supply of IRE1 in a mouse cell infected with Toxoplasma, which severely reduced cellular movement. The Toxoplasma the cells were infected with was then unable to spread to other parts of the body.
If the takeaways from this study are as useful in humans as they are in mice, it opens up routes for new treatments that may prevent the spread of the infection.
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Famous physicists like Richard Feynman think 137 holds the answers to the Universe.
- The fine structure constant has mystified scientists since the 1800s.
- The number 1/137 might hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory.
- Relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics are unified by the number.
Younger Americans support expanding the Supreme Court and serious political reforms, says new poll.
- Americans under 40 largely favor major political reforms, finds a new survey.
- The poll revealed that most would want to expand the Supreme Court, impose terms limits, and make it easier to vote.
- Millennials are more liberal and reform-centered than Generation Z.
A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
- In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. They adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.
- A new study published in 2020 explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
- "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term," researchers on the project explained.
Previous studies on misinformation have already paved the way to a better understanding<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU1NzQ4NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjE2Mjg1Nn0.hs_xHktN1KXUDVoWpHIVBI2sMJy6aRK6tvBVFkqmYjk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C800%2C0%2C823&height=700" id="fc135" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="246bb1920c0f40ccb15e123914de1ab1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="fake news concept of misinformation and fake news in the media" />
How does misinformation spread?
Credit: Visual Generation on Shutterstock<p><strong>What is the "continued-influence" effect?</strong></p><p>A challenge in using corrections effectively is that repeating the misinformation can have negative consequences. Research on this effect (referred to as "continued-influence") has shown that information presented as factual that is later deemed false can still contaminate memory and reasoning. The persistence of the continued-influence effect has led researchers to generally recommend avoiding repeating misinformation. </p><p>"Repetition increases familiarity and believability of misinformation," <a href="https://engineering.stanford.edu/magazine/article/how-fake-news-spreads-real-virus" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the study explains</a>.</p><p><strong>What is the "familiarity-backfire" effect?</strong></p><p>Studies of this effect have shown that increasing misinformation familiarity through extra exposure to it leads to misattributions of fluency when the context of said information cannot be recalled. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620952797#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2017 study</a> examined this effect in myth correction. Subjects rated beliefs in facts and myths of unclear veracity. Then, the facts were affirmed and myths corrected and subjects again made belief ratings. The results suggested a role for familiarity but the myth beliefs remained below pre-manipulation levels. </p>