Latent Toxoplasma gondii infection leads to deficits in goal-directed behavior in healthy elderly
Beste, C., Getzmann, S., Gajewski, P. D., Golka, K., Falkenstein, M
Neurobiology of Aging 2014; 35: 1037-1044.
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The parasite Toxoplasma gondii has been found to manipulate the behavior of its secondary hosts to increase its own dissemination which is commonly believed to be to the detriment of the host (manipulation hypothesis). The manipulation correlates with an up-regulation of dopaminergic neurotransmission. In humans, different pathologies have been associated with T. gondii infections but most latently infected humans do not seem to display overt impairments. Since a dopamine plus does not necessarily bear exclusively negative consequences in humans, we investigated potential positive consequences of latent toxoplasmosis (and the presumed boosting of dopaminergic neurotransmission) on human cognition and behavior. For this purpose, we focused on action cascading which has been shown to be modulated by dopamine. Based on behavioral and neurophysiological (EEG) data obtained by means of a stop-change paradigm, we were able to demonstrate that healthy young humans can actually benefit from latent T. gondii infection as regards their performance in this task (as indicated by faster response times and a smaller P3 component). The data shows that a latent infection which is assumed to affect the dopaminergic system can lead to paradoxical improvements of cognitive control processes in humans.