When you look at normal rats, and expose them to cat urine, cat pheromones, exactly as you would expect, they have a stress response: their stress hormone levels go up, and they activate this classical fear circuitry in the brain. Now you take [Toxoplasmosis]-infected rats, right around the time when they start liking the smell of cat urine, you expose them to cat pheromones, and you don't see the stress hormone release. What you see is that the fear circuit doesn't activate normally, and instead the sexual arousal activates some. In other words, Toxo knows how to hijack the sexual reward pathway. And you get males infected with Toxo and expose them to a lot of the cat pheromones, and their testes get bigger. Somehow, this damn parasite knows how to make cat urine smell sexually arousing to rodents, and they go and check it out. Totally amazing...-- Robert Sapolsky.
...On a certain level, this is a protozoan parasite that knows more about the neurobiology of anxiety and fear than 25,000 neuroscientists standing on each other's shoulders, and this is not a rare pattern.
4 December 2009
Posted by Caspar Henderson at 14:59
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