The missing link in parasite manipulation of host behaviour
Herbison, R. , Lagrue, C. , Poulin, R.
Parasites Vectors 2018; 10.1186/s13071-018-2805-9
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The observation that certain species of parasite my adaptively manipulate its host behaviour is a fascinating phenomenon. As a result, the recently established field of 'host manipulation' has seen rapid expansion over the past few decades with public and scientific interest steadily increasing. However, progress appears to falter when researchers ask how parasites manipulate behaviour, rather than why. A vast majority of the published literature investigating the mechanistic basis underlying behavioural manipulation fails to connect the establishment of the parasite with the reported physiological changes in its host. This has left researchers unable to empirically distinguish/identify adaptive physiological changes enforced by the parasites from pathological side effects of infection, resulting in scientists relying on narratives to explain results, rather than empirical evidence. By contrasting correlative mechanistic evidence for host manipulation against rare cases of causative evidence and drawing from the advanced understanding of physiological systems from other disciplines it is clear we are often skipping over a crucial step in host-manipulation: the production, potential storage, and release of molecules (manipulation factors) that must create the observed physiological changes in hosts if they are adaptive. Identifying these manipulation factors, via associating gene expression shifts in the parasite with behavioural changes in the host and following their effects will provide researchers with a bottom-up approach to unraveling the mechanisms of behavioural manipulation and by extension behaviour itself.