Research Article

Predator Cat Odors Activate Sexual Arousal Pathways in Brains of Toxoplasma gondii Infected Rats

  • Patrick K. House mail,

    Affiliation: Program in Neuroscience, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America

  • Ajai Vyas,

    Affiliation: School of Biological Science, Nanyang Technology University, Singapore

  • Robert Sapolsky

    Affiliation: Departments of Biology, Neurology and Neurological Sciences, and of Neurosurgery, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America

  • Published: August 17, 2011
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023277

Reader Comments (2)

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Amazing results in evolutionary adaptation!

Posted by Chapouthier on 01 Sep 2011 at 13:33 GMT

This original paper analyses a very interesting example of evolutionary adaptation. In rat infected with the brain parasite Toxoplasma gondii avoidance responses to cat odors are abolished and rats tend to approach places marked with odors of their predator. Interestingly Toxoplasma requires the cat to sexually reproduce. In the present article, the authors investigated the brain activity of infected rats. They found that “Toxoplasma infection alters neural activity in limbic brain areas necessary for innate defensive behavior in response to cat odor”. Furthermore “Toxoplasma increases activity in nearby limbic regions of sexual attraction when the rat is exposed to cat urine”. These amazing data clarify how a parasite can, for reproductive needs and in an evolutionary adaptive manner, manipulate the behaviour of its host through an action on its brain. This switch of rat behaviour from innate fear of cat odor to attraction is quite remarkable and should interest a broad readership

No competing interests declared.