Can Cat Poop Make You Crazy?

  • By Michael Rivera
  • Posted 06.13.18
  • NOVA

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that invades the brains of mice and organs of cats, resulting in a disease called toxoplasmosis. This parasite can also infect humans by way of cat feces. Although Toxoplasma research is still in its early stages, scientists estimate that one-third of the human population has been infected.

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Running Time: 03:23

Transcript

Can Cat Poop make you Crazy?

Published June 13, 2018

Emma Wilson: Normally, if a mouse smells cat urine, sensing its predator. It's going to run in the opposite direction.

When that mouse is infected, the mouse is attracted to the smell of the cat urine instead of running away from it.

That's going to continue the life cycle of the parasite.

The cyst contains hundreds and hundreds of parasites, and it slowly grows over time inside the cell.

This is an image of a live mouse brain, and these red circles are Toxoplasma parasite cysts. And every green dot is an immune cell.

Glutamate is involved in almost every single aspect of brain function. It really goes up in the infected brain. And that starts to interfere with cell signaling and that might explain changes in behavior.

What is fascinating is that so many people are infected with toxoplasma. A third of the world's population is infected with this parasite.

Perhaps we feel a little achy and that might be the only indication that you are infected.

The origins of schizophrenia are very poorly understood, but there's correlative evidence that people with schizophrenia are much more likely to be infected with toxoplasma. Possibly, a parasite in your brain, if it alters the chemistry of that brain, could trigger some genetic, underlying neurological disease that we have very little understanding of currently.

Credits

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Digital Producer
Michael Rivera
WHAT'S LIVING IN YOU?
Produced, and Directed by
Peter Yost
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2018

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