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A Toxoplasmosis Link to Schizophrenia

New UK research may put some science behind an old hypothesis: Scientists have discovered how the toxoplasmosis parasite may trigger the development of schizophrenia and other bipolar disorders.

The team from the University of Leeds Faculty of Biological Sciences (UK) has shown that the parasite may play a role in the development of these disorders by affecting the production of dopamine – the chemical that relays messages in the brain controlling aspects of movement, cognition and behavior.

Toxoplasmosis, which is transmitted via cat feces (found on unwashed vegetables) and raw or undercooked infected meat, is relatively common, with 10-20 percent of the UK population and 22 percent of the U.S. population estimated to carry the parasite as cysts.

Most people with the parasite are healthy, but for those who are immune-suppressed – and particularly for pregnant women – there are significant health risks that can occasionally be fatal.

Dr. Glenn McConkey, lead researcher on the project, says: “Toxoplasmosis changes some of the chemical messages in the brain, and these changes can have an enormous effect on behavior. Studies have shown there is a direct statistical link between incidences of schizophrenia and toxoplasmosis infection and our study is the first step in discovering why there is this link.”

The parasite infects the brain by forming a cyst within its cells and producing an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase, which is needed to make dopamine. Dopamine’s role in mood, sociability, attention, motivation and sleep patterns are well documented and schizophrenia has long been associated with dopamine, which is the target of all schizophrenia drugs on the market.

The team has recently received $250,000 to progress its research from the U.S.-based Stanley Medical Research Institute, which focuses on mental health conditions and has a particular emphasis on bipolar illnesses.

Dr. McConkey says: “It’s highly unlikely that we will find one definitive trigger for schizophrenia as there are many factors involved, but our studies will provide a clue to how toxoplasmosis infection – which is more common than you might think – can impact on the development of the condition in some individuals.

“In addition, the ability of the parasite to make dopamine implies a potential link with other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit disorders,” says Dr. McConkey.

“We’d like to extend our research to look at this possibility more closely.”

Source: University of Leeds

A Toxoplasmosis Link to Schizophrenia

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). A Toxoplasmosis Link to Schizophrenia. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2009/03/12/a-toxoplasmosis-link-to-schizophrenia/4704.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.