Tuesday, May 4, 2010
What's that kitten disease that killed the AIDS guy in Trainspotting?
Why it's Toxoplasma Gondi! According to this website, 1/4 of people are infected with it. What exactly is it? Well, it's just a little parasitic protozoa that sets up shop in your brain. It mostly doesn't affect people, but if a woman gets the parasite during while pregnant, it can cross over the placenta and infect the baby, which is bad. People suffering from AIDS can also die of it, just like that guy in Trainspotting.
While it is interesting that so many people have a secret disease, that's not the real interesting thing about Toxoplasmosis (T. gondii infection). The really interesting thing is that Toxoplasma gondii is able to affect the behavior of rats. If you don't want to clink the link, here's the best part of the experiment abstract that I linked to,"Here we report that, although rats have evolved anti-predator avoidance of areas with signs of cat presence, T. gondii's manipulation appears to alter the rat's perception of cat predation risk, in some cases turning their innate aversion into an imprudent attraction." The assumption is that T. gondii does this in order to make the rat get eaten so that it can live in a cat.
So if it affects the behavior of rats, does it do anything similar to humans? Is this some sort of deep physiological cause for cat-ladyness? Possibly. Toxoplasmosis has statistically been linked to schizophrenia. I've sort of been following this for a few years, and new reports indicate that T. gondii produces a chemical that is a step in making dopamine, which is a key ingredient in brain functioning and linked to schizophrenia (drugs to treat schizophrenia always target dopamine). There is also evidence that toxoplasmosis affects the attitudes of the people it infects, making men more jealous and irritable, and making women more outgoing. This has even led one guy to posit that rates of toxoplasmosis could affect the culture of an entire nation or region.
It's all interesting stuff, and there's a LOT more on the web about it. I mean, it is a parasite that lives in your brain and may subtly affect your behavior, which is pretty sci-fi and internetty, and it involves cats, which is also a favorite subject of the internet.
Anyway, just thought I'd share this. One of these assholes peed on my jeans, and it got me to thinking about the dangers of cats, and toxoplasmosis is tops on that list for me.